DELMAR, N.Y.(NEWS10) – According to government officials, the number of volunteer firefighters in New York has declined by 32% over the last 25 years. Governor Hochul recently announced tax breaks for volunteer firefighters and ambulance volunteers. Bethlehem Central School District (BCSD) is among the first to discuss offering a discount on property and school taxes.

“If they are interested, they must fill out the appropriate paperwork on or before March 1st,” John McPhillips, Chief Business Financial Officer for BCSD, said.

The district will offer up to a 10% property tax exemption or an income tax credit according to the incentive. Volunteers must also have at least two years of volunteer service to qualify. 

Fire and ambulance officials hope this will increase the number of applications and retention, which is needed since departments are struggling to help other districts with low staffing.

“But that’s only a temporary fix. Because when I not only have to respond to my department’s calls but then I’m responding to and assisting people in other departments,” John D’Alessandro, Secretary for FASNY, said. “It’s just a terrible cycle we get into. And what winds up happening is the people that stay a volunteer firefighter get burned out.”

Fire officials encourage anyone interested to invest one hour by visiting their local fire or ambulance department.

“Usually on a night where they are training or doing a hands-on class. And see what it’s all about. Answer that curiosity,” Secretary D’Alessandro said. “Because you may just find that it’s the most rewarding hour you have  ever invested in …in your entire life.”

If the BCSD Board of Education approves the incentive on February 1st, the partial tax exemption will become available to all eligible volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers in the district.