ST. CLAIR COUNTY, Ill. — Lawmakers will vote on an Illinois Senate bill this week, and it could greatly help the critical need for more volunteer emergency workers.
Seventy percent of the state relies on volunteer departments, according to the Illinois Firefighters Association.
For Signal Hill Fire Chief Tom Elliff, working for a volunteer fire department is his life’s calling. He said the reward outweighs the money.
“There’s no more noble profession than firefighting or somebody stepping up and helping people when they’re having the worst day of their life,” he said.
Signal Hill covers about 8,000 residents outside Belleville. He said lately his department and many other volunteer organizations have struggled to get volunteers. They are getting more 911 calls every year.
“There are days that I will respond to a fire by myself. There are days when I might get one or two other people to respond with me,” said Elliff.
Fairmont Heights Fire Chief Robert Allen said his staff even helped in St. Louis last month during a funeral for firefighter Ben Polson.
“Volunteers are a very important integral part of about every moving part of the fire service. They are a big cog in the wheel,” Allen said.
Illinois Sen. Chris Belt proposed Senate Bill 3027, which if made law, will provide a $500 income tax credit for all emergency volunteers – from firefighters to paramedics.
“Just a small tax credit of $500 can make a little bit of difference,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Mike Halpin (D). “Compensate for some of the time they weren’t able to go to work because they were responding to another call.”
Elliff hopes it makes a difference.
“We have to be willing to say, ‘Yes, there is starting to be a problem. Yes, there is a problem.’ And we need to fix it,'” Elliff said.
The bill should be going through a House committee Thursday.
For more information on volunteer fire departments in your area, visit: makemeafirefighter.org