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Friday, January 15th, 2021

Bill to provide affordable housing for volunteer firefighters, first responders

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A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation last week designed to provide volunteer firefighters and first responders with affordable housing opportunities.

Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said the Volunteer First Responder Housing Act would expand eligibility for qualified volunteer first responders to participate in certain federal housing assistance programs and provide a greater incentive for more volunteers to stay and continue to serve their communities – particularly in rural and under-served areas.

“The Volunteer First Responder Housing Act will help incentivize people in rural areas to volunteer for this critical service,” Roberts said. “Many communities in Kansas are exclusively protected by volunteer first responders, and it’s critical we provide incentives like this to help recruit and retain these volunteers.”

The National Fire Protection Association’s 2017 U.S. Fire Department Profile indicated 65 percent of the nation’s firefighters are volunteers, adding fire departments rely on them to help respond to varied local emergencies.

Local volunteer fire departments, especially those serving small and rural communities, have found it challenging to meet staffing needs and attract younger volunteers, authorities noted.

“Fire departments in Wisconsin and throughout the nation rely heavily on volunteer firefighters and EMS first responders,” Baldwin said. “We need to make sure that those who volunteer their time to serve have affordable housing in their community. For someone who wants to be a volunteer firefighter, or for someone who is currently is, this bipartisan legislation would make owning a home more affordable and help with volunteer firefighter recruitment and retention.”