How do you encourage people to participate by denying them a benefit of participation?
Local fire companies and emergency medical services need more volunteers. In Pennsylvania, these critical first responders — the people who show up at your home when there is a fire or along the road when there is a crash or any of the million places where your heart could stop or your bones could break — are likely not getting paid. They are just people who know a job needs to be done and step up to do it.
And the number of people stepping forward is dwindling.
With that in mind, Irwin borough council adopted a tax break ordinance that would give a $250 rebate on earned income tax and a 20 percent credit on local government real estate taxes for people who volunteer with the Irwin fire department. They also extended the opportunity to those who volunteer with neighboring North Huntingdon. The break goes into effect in 2020.
It is a fantastic way to reward the people who literally put their lives on the line to save other people’s lives and property.
North Huntingdon residents who volunteer in North Huntingdon will get the credit, whether they are members now or in the future. People who opt to volunteer in Irwin? Well, they will get the perk if they were members as of March 20. Join afterward? Sorry. No dice.
This does half the job. It encourages current volunteers to keep volunteering. It doesn’t provide any incentive for new volunteers.
Yes, it would tend to drive future volunteers to North Huntingdon fire company, but if your house was on fire, would you want both fire companies that showed up to be well-staffed or just one?
Fire companies can be like siblings in a great big family. They may be territorial and competitive, but they are also fiercely loyal in the way that only people literally tried by fire can be. They show up to help one another. They lend a hand. They don’t leave anyone behind.
Municipal government could learn a little something from firefighters.