PAOLI, Ind. (WDRB) -- Volunteer fire departments across Indiana are desperately trying to keep their staffing levels up.

A new proposal would give volunteer firefighters a tax incentive to stay with the department they are currently at especially at smaller departments. The average age for a volunteer firefighter in Indiana is 36 years old. This new proposal is not so much about hiring new but rather retention.

“The numbers of our volunteers are dwindling down, and the sky is not falling in, yet but it’s getting there,” said Paoli Town Council President Michael Harkness.

Inside a Paoli gymnasium Tuesday night, several volunteer firefighters from around southern Indiana represent what they say is not only a state problem but a national one.

A critical shortage of volunteer firefighters due to low pay is why so many are leaving and heading to larger, full-time departments

“It’s expensive to train somebody," said Paoli Fire Chief Mark Jones. "Once they get trained, and then they leave, and the cycle starts again."

State Rep. Steve Bartels said his district is no exception. He is proposing a 5 percent tax incentive for small volunteer departments around the state like Paoli, French Lick and West Baden Springs.

“It’s the same as we do for the national guard in our state, so extend that to the volunteer fireman and also looking at reserve police officers in the state of Indiana,” Bartels said.

As the staffing decreases, response times could increase which could put public safety at risk.

“I would hate to ever think that somebody’s life perishes because nobody can show up," Harkness said.

Several meetings with volunteer fire departments are planned throughout the state. The next one is in September in Evansville.

Legislation could be presented on the State house floor as soon as January.

Copyright 2018 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.