New law tackles state’s firefighter shortage

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(The Center Square) – Illinois Firefighters Association Vice President Kevin Schott is hoping the recently enacted Firefighter Training Leave of Absence Act proves to be just a starting point in the state’s ongoing push to address its worker shortage.

“I think whatever can be done at this point to help with recruitment and retention is a good thing,” Schott told The Center Square. “Every step we can take to help is vital. We’re in a crisis and not just in fire service, but in emergency service. The EMS world is hurting for volunteers as well.”

With fire departments across the state faced with the same staffing issues, state Sen. Patrick Joyce, D-Essex, sponsored Senate Bill 1611, which paves the way for state employees to leave their jobs to attend firefighter training.

As part of his effort, Joyce is also sponsoring Senate Joint Resolution 7, which creates the Recruiting and Retaining Public Employee Firefighters and Paramedics Task Force in hopes of enhancing recruitment and highlighting eligible applicants.

Through it all, Schott said it’s become clear to him that all fine-tuning efforts need to start at the same place.

“We need to be working with sociologists and psychologists to figure out this younger generation,” Schott said. “They do things differently, and we need to figure out what the reward system is … I think we need to do a little more figuring out the 18- to 30-year-olds coming into the system. What makes them tick and what type of reward system we need to be looking at for them.”

With SB1611 now in effect, Schott said one of the changes he would like to see implemented is the creation of some type of retirement benefits system for longtime fire service volunteers.

“I think we need to continue to evolve,” he added. “Our legislators need to understand that volunteer fire service is critical. Depending on where you get your information from, 70 to 75% of the firefighters in Illinois are volunteer. Any legislation that can be drafted and passed to help the volunteer fire service is absolutely critical.”

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