Bill aims to forgive volunteer first responder student loan debt

The proposal would eliminate a portion of student loans in an effort to attract more people to volunteer

By EMS1 Staff

WASHINGTON — A bill aims to increase volunteer recruitment by forgiving a portion of student loan debt.

Williston Herald reported that the Volunteer First Responder Loan Forgiveness Act would add volunteers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which nullifies outstanding balances and interests for first responders after 120 payments are received.

To be considered for the program, you must have a first responder certification, as well as volunteer duties at a public safety agency.

Wolford Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jim Wolf said younger volunteers are needed, as most of the volunteers they have now are older.

“The threat of a major home fire, grain bin fire or grass fire never ends out here in Wolford,” Chief Wolf said. “In rural communities like ours, my volunteer firefighters are expected to be able to cover a wide response area and respond to an array of emergency calls around-the-clock. In this environment, it can be difficult for our department to recruit among the younger generation, because many potential volunteers think they simply can’t put in the time needed to be a quality firefighter.” 

Williston Fire Department Chief Jason Catrambone supports the bill.

“With one-third of our department being volunteers and an essential piece to our operation, we are always looking for ways to recruit and retain,” Catrambone said. “Today’s volunteer firefighters must juggle the demands of work, school and home. We do use incentives but to expand them is cost prohibitive.”

Senator Heidi Heitkamp introduced the bill.

“Volunteer first responders sacrifice a great deal to protect our communities. They have our back, so we should have theirs,” she said in a statement. “This legislation will help make sure our fire departments and EMS teams are adequately staffed by encouraging more men and women to volunteer for these needed roles across our state. A program already exists to help public servants pay off their student loans, so it’s just common sense that firefighters and first responders should qualify as well.”

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