The Pennsylvania State Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing Thursday on the future of firefighting and EMS (emergency medical services) in the commonwealth.
“Making sure that our communities have the resources they need to adequately prepare for and respond to emergencies is of the utmost importance,” said State Sen. Tim Kearney (D-Chester/Delaware), who requested that the hearing be held. “I am grateful that stakeholders from across the state are coming together to discuss what we need to do as a legislature to make sure emergency services like EMS and firefighting are able to adequately serve their communities into the future.”
Pennsylvania State Fire Commissioner Bruce Trego testified that the number of volunteer firefighters in the state has dropped from approximately 300,000 in the 1970s to 38,000 in 2018. Meanwhile, the state’s population has risen from 11.8 million in 1970 to 12.8 million as of 2018.
Jerry Ozog, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute said during his testimony that the state’s changing demographics “directly affect emergency services, with an increased demand in calls associated with a decrease in the pool of available citizens to recruit for volunteer firefighting and aging of current members.”
In 2017, Senate Resolution (SR) 6 was approved to form a statewide commission to examine the crisis facing both firefighters and EMS personnel. The commission’s came to the conclusion in its report that more resources, funds and legislative changes are needed to help maintain sufficient firefighting and EMS services in Pennsylvania.
“Many of the recommendations in the SR 6 Commission report will require legislative changes to implement,” Trego said. He said expanding local governments’ authority to offer tax credits to local fire and EMS personnel would help with recruiting volunteers, and legislation to do that currently sits in the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.
Other recommendations that would be beneficial in terms of recruiting more volunteers include creating a length of service reward programs and providing free community or state university tuition, as well as basic fire and emergency medical technician training, for all those who would like to work in the field, Trego said.
Trego also said that more than 90 percent of Pennsylvania’s 2,462 fire companies are volunteer.
Sen. Anthony Williams (D- Delaware/Philadelphia) also brought up the issue of changing the culture of volunteer firefighters.
Trego agreed, and said the social structure of communities has changed, with volunteer firefighters and fire houses no longer central to community functions. Trego said planned regionalization of services needs to be part of an adjustment to this new reality.
“My husband served as a volunteer firefighter,” said State Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh). “So, I am well aware of the challenges these brave volunteers face. This hearing has given us the insight to go forth with much needed reform and assistance measures for our fire companies and EMS providers to make sure they have the resources and personnel they need to continue ensuring the health and safety of Pennsylvania residents.”
A full recording of the hearing will be available at SenatorBoscola.com/policy.
Also testifying were Sean Sanderson, Local Government Policy Specialist, Dept. of Community and Economic Development; Kathi Cozzone, Commissioner, Chester County; Steven Bair, Chief, Alpha Fire Company, State College; Beau Crowding, Deputy Directory, Chester County Dept. of Emergency Services; Darryl Kaiser, Chief, Garden Spot Fire Rescue, New Holland; Danielle Koerner, Community Outreach Coordinator, Delaware County Dept. of Emergency Services; and D. Robert Brady II, President, ROBB Consulting, LLC.
Note: This story includes information from a news release from the Pennsylvania State Senate Democratic Policy Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-18).