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Senator Tammy Baldwin wants to provide affordable housing for volunteer first responders

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MARATHON COUNTY (WAOW)- In an emergency we want rescuers to arrive fast.

However, that's getting tougher in areas that rely on volunteer departments.

Senator Tammy Baldwin has introduced a bill she said will save lives by providing affordable housing for our volunteer fire fighters.

It's called the Volunteer First Responder Housing Act.

"90 percent of Wisconsin fire departments are staffed entirely or mostly by volunteers so recruiting and retaining volunteer fire fighters is critical," Sen. Baldwin said.

Sen. Baldwin said giving them a place to live near by will help draw in more volunteers.

However, Rob Bowen the Chief of Riverside Fire with 42 volunteers said keeping them is what matters.

"I could see it help retain members because to be in this program you would commit to that residence for two or three years," Chief Bowen said.

A loan program is already in place through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and The Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Sen. Baldwin said she wants to see volunteer first responders now included in it.

"This is great but without the homes available how is this going to help us," Chief Bowen said.

Right now, the closest available housing that would qualify under this act is in Antigo, which doesn't do much good for volunteers like Riverside.

"The rehabilitation and improvement loans might make something available that might not already be on the market," Sen. Baldwin said.

Volunteers for Riverside fire make $3 an hour when on call, which the chief said makes it tough to attract recruits with most minimum wage jobs paying much more.

Victoria Saha

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