Port Washington Fire Department members, from left, Patrick Saccoccia, Matthew...

Port Washington Fire Department members, from left, Patrick Saccoccia, Matthew Kerin, Michael Tedeschi, Robert Kropacek, Christopher Bollerman and Scott Werner on Thursday. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

North Hempstead has opted in to a state law that gives volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers a 10% tax exemption on their town taxes if they live locally, a tool that fire officials said may help them better recruit and retain newcomers.

Last year, state officials passed a property tax exemption of up to 10% for volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers with at least two years of service.

The change gave municipalities the ability to adopt the legislation locally, which North Hempstead officials did at an April 4 board meeting. The new law will give volunteers of at least two years a 10% property tax exemption on town and special district taxes.

“The selfless heroes in our volunteer fire departments deserve to be recognized," Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte said after the vote. "Our volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers put their lives on the line to keep our community safe. It is only right that we provide them with the support they need and deserve."

Town officials hailed the legislation in the face of an ongoing volunteer firefighter recruitment dilemma.

“Beyond the perk of alleviating some of the financial burden they face, this tax exemption will also be a valuable recruitment and retention tool for our volunteers, as it has become harder and harder to find and retain individuals who are eager to make the selfless sacrifice of serving as a volunteer," Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena said in a statement.

Town officials said applicants must supply a letter of certification to the Nassau County Department of Assessment that includes the volunteer's date of enrollment and current active status on the letterhead of the incorporated volunteer fire or ambulance company. 

Nassau County recently adopted legislation to lower the number of years, from five to two, that volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers need to serve before qualifying for a partial tax exemption on the county portion of their property taxes.

Christopher Bollerman, chairman of the Port Washington Fire Department’s board of directors, lauded North Hempstead's new legislation and said the two-year period to qualify for the exemption aligns with the department's probationary period length.

Department officials are encouraged that the property tax reduction will make living in North Hempstead more affordable for members, and "it might entice people to join the volunteer fire department, so they can enjoy the 10 percent tax reduction," said Bollerman, 55.

In recent years, the recruitment of volunteers has slowed for local departments, which are having difficulty retaining younger members

“Recruiting is difficult, but retention is nearly impossible,” Bollerman added. “This truly is a retention tool for the fire department to use.”

The Port Washington Fire Department is one of the busiest in Nassau, Bollerman noted. Last year, the department responded to 2,580 ambulance calls and 1,471 fire calls. The department has more than 250 members, with about 70 in the fire medic company.

Lee Genser, 35, a volunteer ambulance unit captain for the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department, said many of his fellow volunteers stopped their service to further careers in medicine. He said some younger members don't return after college because of the high cost of living in the area. Genser said these types of exemptions may help make the area more affordable. 

"It's a multifaceted approach in terms of getting new volunteers," Genser said.

North Hempstead has opted in to a state law that gives volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers a 10% tax exemption on their town taxes if they live locally, a tool that fire officials said may help them better recruit and retain newcomers.

Last year, state officials passed a property tax exemption of up to 10% for volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers with at least two years of service.

The change gave municipalities the ability to adopt the legislation locally, which North Hempstead officials did at an April 4 board meeting. The new law will give volunteers of at least two years a 10% property tax exemption on town and special district taxes.

“The selfless heroes in our volunteer fire departments deserve to be recognized," Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte said after the vote. "Our volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers put their lives on the line to keep our community safe. It is only right that we provide them with the support they need and deserve."

Town officials hailed the legislation in the face of an ongoing volunteer firefighter recruitment dilemma.

“Beyond the perk of alleviating some of the financial burden they face, this tax exemption will also be a valuable recruitment and retention tool for our volunteers, as it has become harder and harder to find and retain individuals who are eager to make the selfless sacrifice of serving as a volunteer," Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena said in a statement.

Town officials said applicants must supply a letter of certification to the Nassau County Department of Assessment that includes the volunteer's date of enrollment and current active status on the letterhead of the incorporated volunteer fire or ambulance company. 

Nassau County recently adopted legislation to lower the number of years, from five to two, that volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers need to serve before qualifying for a partial tax exemption on the county portion of their property taxes.

Christopher Bollerman, chairman of the Port Washington Fire Department’s board of directors, lauded North Hempstead's new legislation and said the two-year period to qualify for the exemption aligns with the department's probationary period length.

Department officials are encouraged that the property tax reduction will make living in North Hempstead more affordable for members, and "it might entice people to join the volunteer fire department, so they can enjoy the 10 percent tax reduction," said Bollerman, 55.

In recent years, the recruitment of volunteers has slowed for local departments, which are having difficulty retaining younger members

“Recruiting is difficult, but retention is nearly impossible,” Bollerman added. “This truly is a retention tool for the fire department to use.”

The Port Washington Fire Department is one of the busiest in Nassau, Bollerman noted. Last year, the department responded to 2,580 ambulance calls and 1,471 fire calls. The department has more than 250 members, with about 70 in the fire medic company.

Lee Genser, 35, a volunteer ambulance unit captain for the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department, said many of his fellow volunteers stopped their service to further careers in medicine. He said some younger members don't return after college because of the high cost of living in the area. Genser said these types of exemptions may help make the area more affordable. 

"It's a multifaceted approach in terms of getting new volunteers," Genser said.

Firefighter facts

  • There were about 1,041,200 career and volunteer firefighters in the United States in 2020. Of that number, 65% of them were volunteers.
  • Half of firefighters are between 30 and 49 years old.

Source: National Fire Protection Association 

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