HARRISBURG – The Senate approved a comprehensive package of bipartisan reforms Tuesday to improve the delivery of fire and EMS services throughout the state, according to Senator David G. Argall, who supported the legislation.
“Fire and EMS workers have been among the bravest of frontline employees throughout COVID-19, putting themselves at risk of potentially contracting the virus every single time they answer an emergency call,” said Argall. “They are always there to help us in the most dangerous times of our lives. I supported this legislation because we should be there for them now as they face the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
House Bill 1673 includes more than a dozen different proposals that were recommended in the 2018 Senate Resolution 6 Report to strengthen fire and EMS services in Pennsylvania. The bill contains key provisions including improvements to grant and loan programs for fire companies, new measures to support recruitment and retention of fire personnel and critical changes in the Office of the State Fire Commissioner.
Some of the highlights of the bill include:
- Reauthorizing the Fire Company and EMS Grant Program for four years and expanding the eligible uses of the program to include fire prevention education, recruitment and retention programs, volunteer firefighter length of service awards, construction savings accounts and revenue loss for grants issued during the next two years.
- Requiring the reconstituted State Fire Advisory Board to review and make recommendations on the funding formula for the Volunteer Fire Relief Program and expanding eligible uses to include training, nutrition supplies, recruitment and retention, length of service award programs, facilities, vehicles, equipment, commercial driver licenses and stipends of up to $1,500 per year.
- Increasing loan amounts for facilities, vehicles and equipment through the Volunteer Loan Assistance Program (now the Fire and EMS Loan Program) and creating a ballot question that would ask voters to permit municipal (paid) fire companies to be eligible for low-interest loans.
- Authorizing counties and school districts to provide property tax credits for volunteer first responders and permitting municipalities to provide earned income tax credits or property tax credits for volunteer first responders.
The bill was amended in the Senate and returns to the House of Representatives for consideration