As the Pennsylvania General Assembly kicked off the 2017-18 Legislative Session on Monday (January 23), the leaders of the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee and House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee announced a renewed effort to assist Pennsylvania’s first responders.
A comprehensive review of a previous effort to help Pennsylvania’s first responders and the unveiling of a new legislative package of bills to assist fire departments and EMS organizations was the focus of a press conference co-hosted by Senator Randy Vulakovich, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee, Senator Jay Costa, Democratic Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee, Representative Steve Barrar, Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee, and Representative Chris Sainato, Democratic Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee.
The four chairmen were joined by first responders from across the state to announce a proposed “reboot” of Senate Resolution 60 of 2003 – a comprehensive study of Fire & EMS issues completed in 2004 – and to discuss a 16-bill package of legislation to complement and build on previous efforts to help Pennsylvania’s first responders address key issues such as recruitment and retention.
Finding and keeping personnel is a key issue facing many departments as the ranks of volunteers in Pennsylvania have dwindled from about 300,000 in the 1970s to around 50,000 today.
Facing similar concerns a decade ago, the General Assembly approved Senate Resolution 60, a concurrent resolution that created a bi-partisan commission to study emergency services across the Commonwealth.
The 25-member commission released a report that focused on specific concerns such as recruitment and delivery of services, issues that seemed to be most common among fire departments and ambulance corps across the state. Through that focus, the Commission developed a set of recommendations that were intended to provide needed assistance to Pennsylvania’s emergency service providers.
“And now 13 years later, I feel the timing is right to “reboot” this effort – to review the 23 recommendations – to see what was or was not done on each of them – whether they worked – and what the next steps we should take in order to preserve and grow our fire and EMS systems for the future of our Commonwealth,” said Sen. Vulakovich. “I am proud to be part of this bipartisan effort and look forward to working together as we begin the process of advancing the important legislation we are unveiling today.”
“Each and every day, in all corners of Pennsylvania, men and women answer emergency calls and save lives,” said Sen. Costa. “Pennsylvania policymakers need to do all we can to support volunteer and professional firefighters and EMS personnel. It is good public policy and makes fiscal sense. The work of the commission is important because it will provide a roadmap that legislators can use to develop far-reaching and effective public policy that will impact future generations.”
“With the help of the commission, we will be working to address issues that currently threaten the sustainability of both fire and emergency medical services,” said Rep. Barrar. “The bills we discussed today are just a few of the ideas we had as a result of many conversations with stakeholders in the first responder community, and I am eager to develop more ways to help these men and women, as they continue to provide valuable services to all of Pennsylvania.”
“As we continue to re-evaluate the status of SR 60 recommendations, I am eager to move forward and focus on those ideas we have already begun to develop as a result of those recommendations, said Rep. Sainato. “We must be resolute in our efforts to provide recruitment and retention, as well as other incentives for emergency responders throughout the commonwealth. We cannot afford to do otherwise.”
The Fire and EMS support measures unveiled by the Chairmen include bills to promote recruitment and retention, such as offering online training to make the process more convenient, providing loan forgiveness to attract volunteers, and developing a pilot program to offer firefighter training in secondary schools. Other measures would provide tax credits to businesses that excuse their employees when they need to respond to emergencies or undergo training and provide new billing options for fire departments and EMS organizations.
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