Fire chiefs request tax credit for volunteers

Fire chiefs across Canada are calling on the government to include a tax credit of up to $2,000 for volunteer firefighters in the upcoming budget.

Fire chiefs across Canada are calling on the Conservative government to include a tax credit of up to $2,000 for volunteer firefighters in the upcoming budget.

Volunteer firefighters not only donate time to their community, but sometimes have to pay for training and equipment themselves, said Calgary fire Chief Bruce Burrell, who is also president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs.

"They do all of this pretty unselfishly," he said. "Part of the tax credit is to take into account not only the hours, but also the costs involved in doing all of those other activities."

Most fire services in Alberta are volunteer-based. There are approximately 4,000 volunteer firefighters in southern Alberta alone.

The volunteers not only fight fires, they train, respond to medical emergencies and vehicle collisions, raise funds and look after the trucks and fire halls, Burrell said.

"You are looking at highly committed volunteers."

A tax credit of up to $2,000 for volunteer firefighters was originally included in a bill tabled in the House of Commons in 2006. The bill was in its third reading when Parliament was dissolved last fall.

Training, call volumes up

Andrew Kieswetter, who is on call 15 times a month in High River, Alta., says the toughest part is balancing his voluntary night shifts with his family life.

"You know, you're trying to build a relationship with your kids, and all of the sudden you have a duty to come to the hall. That plays a toll."

High River fire Chief Len Zebedee said recruitment has been difficult over the last few years because training requirements are more onerous and the call volumes are going up.

A tax credit in the budget, to be tabled on Jan. 27, would be a big help, he said.

"We do pay them some money to cover their fuel costs or time spent away from their homes. It's very minimal, but that would certainly help those volunteers to entice and retain them."

Rural fire services are in the spotlight in Alberta after the Kilmorey Lodge in Waterton Lakes National Park burned to the ground Tuesday morning.

The park doesn't have fire service in the winter and firefighters had to travel from Cardston and Pincher Creek, about 40 kilometres away.