At the request of state Sen. Tim Kearney (D- Chester/Delaware), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing on October 3, on the future of firefighting and EMS (emergency medical services) in Pennsylvania.
“Making sure that our communities have the resources they need to adequately prepare for and respond to emergencies is of the utmost importance,” Kearney said. “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.”
Bruce Trego, Pennsylvania State Fire Commissioner said that the number of volunteer firefighters in the state has gone from approximately 300,000 in the 1970’s to just 38,000 in 2018. The state’s population rising from 11.8 million in 1970 to 12.8 million in 2018.
Jerry Ozog, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute said during his testimony, “These demographic changes 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 report concluded 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,” said Trego. He said that expanding authority for local governments to offer tax credits to local fire and EMS personnel would be impactful to recruiting volunteers, and legislation to do this currently sits in House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.
Other recommendations that would be beneficial to implement in order to recruit volunteers would be creating length of service reward programs, 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 of Pennsylvania’s 2,462 fire companies, over 90 percent are currently volunteer.
Sen. Anthony Williams (D- Delaware/Philadelphia) also brought up the issue of changing the culture of volunteer firefighters. Trego agreed, saying that the social structure of communities has changed, and volunteer firefighters and fire houses are no longer central to community functions. Trego said that we need to adjust to that reality, and planned regionalization will need to be a part of that.
“My husband served as a volunteer firefighter,” Boscola said. “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,” Boscola said.
Sens. Pam Iovino (D- Allegheny/Washington), Shariff Street (D- Philadelphia), Katie Muth (D- Berks/Chester/Montgomery) and Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D- Allegheny).
Testifiers at the hearing included:
- Bruce Trego, Fire Commissioner, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
- Sean Sanderson, Local Government Policy Specialist, Dept. of Community and Economic Development
- Jerry Ozog, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute
- Kathi Cozzone, Commissioner, Chester County
- Steven Bair, Chief, Alpha Fire Company
- Beau Crowding, Deputy Directory, Chester County Dept. of Emergency Services
- Darryl Kaiser, Chief, Garden Spot Fire Rescue
- Danielle Koerner, Community Outreach Coordinator, Delaware County Dept. of Emergency Services
- D. Robert Brady, II., President, ROBB Consulting, LLC.
A full recording of the hearing is available at senatorboscola.com/policy.