Lawmakers Consider Break for Firefighters

3-4-05 – Volunteer firefighters in Oklahoma are hoping for some financial aide in the form of tax breaks. A proposed bill in the legislature would grant volunteer firefighters a $200 tax exemption for each year they serve their communities.

“All we get is just a thank you, which is really great. You don’t know how it feels if someone comes up to you and gives you a hug and says thank you.” Diana Bundrant, a City Hall employee and volunteer firefighter in Bokchito, says she’s happy to put her life on the line for fellow citizens. However, a financial boost could make a difference for her bottom line and encourage others to join the fire department.

To quality, firefighters must be certified through the Oklahoma State University Fire Service Training Program. Some say the condition would exclude many of the most under-funded rural departments that do not have in-house instructors to provide the certification. Classes are scattered around the state which makes in difficult for volunteers in communities like Bennington, Wade, and Roberta to get certified.

Out of 950 fire departments in the state, roughly 450 are volunteer departments.

The Oklahoma Volunteer Firefighter Incentive Act, by Rep. Jerry McPeak is expected to cost the state $641,000 dollars. The legislation would also exempt volunteer firefighters from paying fees for hunting and fishing licenses.

"The people that are serving as volunteer firefighters deserve to get some kind of break," said McPeak, D-Warner. "They're not making $100,000 a year. They are volunteers who put their lives on the line."

The tax exemption bill passed through committee on Wednesday and awaits approval from the Oklahoma House of Representatives.