Since first providing a stark overview of the PA SR-6 report over a year ago (The Four- Alarm Fire No One Is Answering), we’ve tried to keep the public informed about the state of volunteer firefighting and emergency response in Pennsylvania—specifically the inverse proportion of decreasing volunteerism statewide (and nationwide) while municipal and regional department costs are increasing incrementally year after year.
About six months later, we followed up that article with an interview with Jerry Ozog, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute (PFESI) that spoke specifically to the kinds of proactive and necessary steps fire departments, municipalities and regions might need to take to mitigate shortages in manpower or budget-straining increases in costs—including links to a seminar Mr. Ozog offers statewide for free.
Inquire at the PFSEI contact page using “Building and Maintaining Effective Relationships with Local Government Officials / Volunteer Fire Departments” in the comments box.
This month, the PFESI has provided a legislative update on statewide lobbying efforts by their group, state legislators, fire directors and municipal servants—and there is positive movement in Harrisburg.
Tax credits, grants, loan assistance, debt forgiveness, COVID-19 considerations and a host of other legislative provisions will be up for consideration in one or both PA legislative bodies in the 2020 session—with opportunities to advance to the Governor’s desk this year.
COVID-19 will certainly add unwelcome pressure to the budgetary decisions that need to be made in Harrisburg—however the alarm calls ringing out from fire stations and municipalities statewide are starting to be heard. But hard choices remain for fire and emergency services across the state and nationwide.
Not just at the statewide appropriation level, but also with municipalities and communities struggling with fully staffing—and funding—emergency services using a volunteer model that is the narrowing backbone of fire service. Regional consolidation of fire resources, municipal or state tax increases to create full-time first responder positions (similar to Police), and possible station closures are all potential realities faced by fire and emergency response in the new decade.
Collaborate Now To Answer The Call.
The examples being set by regional fire departments such as Alpha (working in close concert with the Centre Region Council of Governments and federal grant resources) and advocacy organizations like the PFSEI demonstrate that there are answers to be found if municipal, state and station leadership can unite to address the challenges ahead.
The alarm bells are being heard. There is growing concern however, that current extreme stresses placed on the state with coronavirus response may move these priorities backward. And that’s something we cannot afford to overlook or kick down the road.