Legislative Update from Senator Scott Hutchinson—Supporting Fire/EMS Companies

We as a Commonwealth are thankful for our emergency service personnel, especially the volunteers who are the heart and soul of so many of our local fire departments and ambulance corps.

Unfortunately, many volunteer forces are struggling to make ends meet and maintain membership. As society becomes more technologically advanced, so do the potential dangers. Today’s volunteers must be better trained than at any time in the past. Emergency vehicles cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Protective clothing and personal equipment can also cost thousands of dollars and construction and maintenance of stations can be beyond the means of many departments.

Compounding the financial situation, the COVID-19 pandemic severely restricted many ways that volunteer first responders raise money—such as boot drives and chicken barbeques—even as the statewide public health emergency created by the virus increased the workload placed on these organizations.

We recognize those issues and the General Assembly responded to that need for assistance in two ways:

First, we dedicated an additional $50 million ($44 million for grants to fire companies and $6 million to benefit EMS stations) of the CARES funding from the federal government to supplement their awards from the annual Fire Company and Emergency Medical Service Grant Program. 

On October 22, a comprehensive bill was sent to the Governor’s desk that updates and expands financial assistance programs and promotes efforts to recruit, train, and retain first responders. The bill includes more than a dozen recommendations from a bi-partisan panel that studied emergency services across the Commonwealth.

The bill would let counties and school districts offer property tax credits for volunteer first responders and give fire and EMS companies the ability to use state grant money for recruitment and retention efforts.

While this legislation is certainly not the ‘be all and end all’ solution to these challenges, it is an important step in the right direction. The state must continue to partner with local communities–elected officials, volunteers, and citizens–to ensure that help arrives when someone dials 911. 

In closing, I want to thank our firefighters and ambulance crews for their service to their communities. Just as you are there to provide help when we need you most, I want to assure you that the General Assembly is committed to helping you.

This article was published in the Venango Chamber’s November 2020 VenangoWorks! Newsletter.

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