Sen. Bennett honored at Gibson City Fire Department

GIBSON CITY, Ill. (WCIA) — Illinois State Senator Tom Bennett (R-Gibson City) was given a Public Service Award on Saturday from the Illinois Firefighters Association at his hometown Gibson City Fire Department.

The award thanked Senator Bennett for his role in getting the new tax credit law aimed at supporting volunteer firefighters. It passed on the state level this past spring. As of Thursday, volunteer firefighters from across the state can now qualify for up to $500 of credit on income taxes.

Bennett and the Illinois Firefighters Association say they want to improve volunteer retention for departments across the state.

“As volunteers, they did for their communities and they do for their families. So I thank you very much for this. But you guys are the real heroes today,” echoed Bennett to the Gibson Fire Department and Illinois Firefighters Association.

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City officials and the Illinois Firefighters Association gave Bennett a plaque and a round of applause for his efforts in supporting the bill.

“We’ve been working several years to get this passed and didn’t get traction. Senator Bennett really picked up the ball and ran with it,” said Kevin Schott, Vice President of the Illinois Firefighters Association.

The Association pushed for this bill for years on the state level with no luck. Senator Bennett said volunteer firefighters should be awarded for keeping communities safe.

“It takes a lot of work. And these are volunteers trying to do this,” Bennett said. “It’s a way of saying, ‘Thank you for all you’re doing,’ to recognize what you’re doing, because it is such a big, important part of the fire protection system in Illinois.”

The bill also looks to boost volunteer recruitment and retention throughout Illinois. Government Affairs Director Margret Vaughn said many don’t realize the current public safety crisis.

“The number of volunteers has decreased nationwide. It’s just not unique to Illinois. By about 50% over the past 30 years, EMS calls have tripled. So there is a huge demand with the aging population,” Vaughn said.

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The State Fire Marshal Deputy Director Allen Reyne said the bill incentivizes volunteering.

“I would guess 90% of the traveling public is protected by volunteer fire departments across Illinois. And so it’s important that we do something, as a state, to incentivize people to join their volunteer fire departments, to stay the course on their fire departments once they join,” Reyne said.

Although the Senator was honored at the event, he said all the attention should go towards the willing few who put others’ lives above their own.

“It’s important to reward what they’re doing but also let everybody else in Illinois realize the importance of what they do,” Bennett said.

Both the Illinois Firefighter’s Association and Bennett say the bill is an excellent first step, with room to grow moving forward.

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