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  • Nick Burgess

Tax Deductions for Firefighters

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

The following article is for educational and entertainment purposes only, and should not be considered financial advice. Please contact a licensed financial professional for individual financial advice. Some links below may be affiliate marketing links, which provide a small commission to the site at no cost to you.

 

Between running into burning buildings, living at the fire station for days at a time and settling for mid-level pay for most of your career, firefighters have it tough. However, as employees of local governments, these first responders do have some unique tax benefits that normal, less brave members of society don't typically have access to as a part of their taxable income.


Let's talk about some IRS rules around firefighter income tax deductions, but please note that these are for active member firefighters only, and do not typically apply to independent contractor firefighters, or members of a volunteer fire department as they incur taxes from their normal day job. However some eligible volunteer firefighters may qualify based on their volunteer service, years of service and specific portions of the tax code. Please check with a licensed tax professional for your own individual situation and to assist with your own income tax deduction.

Uniform and Equipment Expenses: Firefighters incur significant costs associated with purchasing and maintaining the uniform and equipment necessary to perform their duties. Costs of your firefighter uniforms firefighting gear, helmets, boots, and protective clothing that the purchase for themselves, as well as cost of maintenance. In order to be eligible for a deduction, the uniform or equipment must be required as a condition of employment and must not be suitable for everyday wear (not that you're going to stick your helmet on for a trip to the grocery store). It is also important to note that the expenses must not be reimbursed by the employer. Firefighters should keep receipts for all uniform and equipment purchases to support the deduction.


Travel Expenses: Firefighters who are required to travel away from home overnight in the course of their duties may be eligible to deduct certain travel expenses. These expenses may include the any lodging expense, meal expenses, and transportation for specific off-site work. It is important to note that the travel must be directly related to the performance of the firefighter's duties and that the expenses must not be reimbursed by the employer, or be non-deductible personal use. Firefighters should keep receipts for all travel expenses to support the deduction.


Job-Related Educational Expenses: Firefighters may be eligible to deduct the cost of courses, seminars, and other education that is directly related to their job as a firefighter and that maintains or improves their skills. This may include training programs, certification courses, and continuing education programs. It is important to note that the education must be required by the employer or be necessary to maintain the firefighter's current salary, status, or job. Firefighters should keep receipts for all job-related education expenses to support the deduction.

Home Office: If a firefighter uses a portion of their home for job-related activities, such as writing reports or studying, they may be eligible to take a home office deduction tax credit or real property tax exemption. To qualify, the area must be used exclusively for work and must be the principal place of business. The deduction is calculated based on the square footage of the home office relative to the total square footage of the home. Firefighters should keep accurate records of the square footage of their home office and the total square footage of their home to support the deduction.

Union Dues: Firefighters who are members of a union may deduct the cost of union dues and initiation fees. These expenses are considered an ordinary and necessary business expense and are deductible on the firefighter's tax return. It is important to note that union dues and initiation fees must be incurred in the performance of the firefighter's duties and must not be reimbursed by the employer. Firefighters should keep receipts for all union dues and initiation fees to support the deduction.

Tools and Supplies: Firefighters may deduct the cost of tools and supplies that are necessary for their job, such as flashlights, portable radios, and protective items. These expenses are considered an ordinary and necessary business expense and are deductible on the firefighter's tax return. It is important to note that the tools and supplies must be used exclusively for the performance of the firefighter's duties and must not be reimbursed by the employer. Firefighters should keep receipts for all tool and supply purchases to support the deduction.

Physical Examinations: Firefighters may deduct the cost of physical examinations required by their job, including any medical tests or equipment needed to perform the exam. These expenses are considered an ordinary and necessary business expense and are deductible on the firefighter's tax return. It is important to note that the physical examination must be required by the employer or be necessary to maintain the firefighter's current salary, status, or job. Firefighters should keep receipts for all physical examination expenses to support the deduction.

Meal Expenses: Since part of the job is literally living in the fire station, meals that you eat there may be deductible. This includes any house dues or contributions to a common mess fund, as of the 1980 court case of The United States vs Sibla.


Auto Expenses: This is a tricky one. You can only deduct the mileage on your personal vehicle in commuting to and from the firehouse. It's critically important to record business miles, as you don't want to get them confused with other mileage and potentially open yourself up to an audit, so keep a detailed record of your expenses! Apps like Quickbooks can help you automate this process, or you can reset your car's odometer with each trip (though that's more of a hassle).


In addition to the deductions listed above, firefighters may also be eligible for other federal income tax deductions, such as moving expenses if they move due to a job change, and car expenses if they use their personal vehicle for job-related purposes. However, it is important to keep in mind that every individual's tax situation is unique and what may be deductible for one person may not be deductible for another.

What is Not Tax Deductible?

I mentioned union dues as a tax deductible expense above, but those are essentially the only extracurricular dues that you can write off. Joining country clubs to network, or outside professional organizations or civic organizations are not deductible.

Your cell phone is a little bit half-and-half. If you have toll calls that are required for business use, you can write those off. However, cellular phone use that is not business related is non-deductible, so if your really want to deduct a portion of your phone bill, you'll have to keep your records and mark off business versus non-business cell phone use.


In addition to the deductions listed above, firefighters may also be eligible for other federal income tax deductions, such as moving expenses if they move due to a job change, and car expenses if they use their personal vehicle for job-related purposes. However, it is important to keep in mind that every individual's tax situation is unique and what may be deductible for one person may not be deductible for another.

It is always recommended that firefighters consult with a tax professional or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for guidance on which deductions may be available to them. Additionally, the IRS provides a publication specifically for first responders, Publication 5304, which provides information on tax benefits and credits for first responders, including firefighters.

Conclusion

In conclusion, firefighters face unique everyday business expenses in the performance of their duties, and the tax code provides a number of income tax deductions to help offset these costs. From cost of protective clothing to overtime meal allowance to job-related education and physical examinations, there are a number of deductions available to firefighters. However, it is important to consult with a tax professional or the IRS for specific guidance on which deductions may be available and to ensure that all deductions are taken in accordance with the tax code. By taking advantage of these deductions, firefighters can reduce their tax liability and keep more of their hard-earned income.



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