ST. PAUL – During a delegation at the Nov. 14 County of St. Paul council meeting, St. Paul Fire Chief Trevor Kotowich told council there is less interest from people volunteering as firefighters.
He reported the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) is submitting a petition to the Government of Canada to support amendment to Bill C-310, to help attract and retain more volunteers.
“I can speak - certainly not as an authority on it - but what’s happening is that [CAFC] are looking for support... to increase the tax credit for volunteer firefighters and volunteer search-and-rescue from $3,000 to $10,000,” said Kotowich.
Attached with the meeting agenda was a letter from CAFC, noting that 71 per cent of firefighters in Canada, which is over 90,000 firefighters, are volunteers. CAFC also stated that around 30 per cent of volunteers pay out of pocket to cover expenses associated with the service.
“This essential profession no longer attracts these valiant workers we desperately need, because of their low pay, if any. It is only their passion that motivates them: protecting our communities,” stated CAFC in the letter, adding that this is no longer enough motivation with increased inflation.
Remuneration for part-time firefighters often consists of a $3,000 annual tax credit for a minimum of 200 hours of annual work.
Kotowich asked if County council would be interested in signing the petition.
Coun. Ross Krekoski said, “I’m just very surprised, like $10,000, it’s not very much. Why not $20,000?”
“I guess they got to start somewhere,” said Kotowich, in response.
Coun. Maxine Fodness moved that council sign the petition, supporting the proposed increased tax credit for search and rescue volunteers and firefighter volunteers. The motion was carried.
Any citizens or residents of Canada can also sign the petition online.
During discussions, Coun. Darrell Younghans also said he believes Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA Scott Cyr is also in favour of the tax credit, noting that he heard the MLA speak about the topic at a recent gathering.
“[Cyr] mentioned that there was a talk with the Firefighters Association about leaning towards a pension. Have you heard anything?” asked Younghans.
Kotowich said there are resolutions that have come forward to associations like the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association (AFCA), “But I mean, I just can’t see that happening,” said Kotowich.
“I’ll really scare you folks, what I think would be beneficial to recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters is a property tax break,” said the chief, citing examples of municipalities in southern Alberta that offer a tax rebate program.
The Town of Coaldale, for example, introduced two volunteer firefighter tax rebate programs in 2020, including a property tax rebate program of up to $2,000 a year for local businesses who employ “and provide paid release time to volunteer firefighters who respond to emergency calls while at work,” according to information from the Town of Coaldale.
The other incentive is up to $1,000 a year tax rebate for Coaldale’s volunteer firefighters on their residential tax bill.
Kotowich said, “We’re not seeing the people wanting to step up like they used to, it’s just not a common way of life.” He believes the idea of offering a property tax rebate for volunteer firefighters could be worth exploring.