By Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter)
It’s no secret our volunteer firefighters and emergency service personnel are stretched to the limit these days. Fewer men and women are opting to volunteer their time and money is scarce for training and equipment needed to perform life-saving tasks.
The Commonwealth recognizes that it has a big part to play in the future viability of our volunteer emergency responders. Just last year, a special commission was established (the Senate Resolution 6 Commission) to follow up and expand upon prior recommendations to address the increasing challenges facing first responders.
Last week, the commission released its report, which focuses on improving recruitment and retention in the two critical fields of fire and emergency medical services.
Sadly, the number of volunteer firefighters has shrunk from about 300,000 in the 1980s to 38,000 today, according to the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute. This is a trend that needs to be reversed if we are to maintain our volunteer companies. Otherwise, paid companies requiring taxpayer dollars to operate will become a necessity.
Recommendations to bolster recruitment and retention include providing Length of Service Award Payments (LOSAP) and other benefit programs, funding basic fire and EMS training at the state level and offering incentives to employers to permit trainees to attend fire and EMS training.
There was a total of 27 recommendations made by the commission, with the expectation that legislation to address the recommendations will be introduced in the upcoming 2019-20 Legislative Session.
Legislation recently passed into law by the General Assembly to assist state emergency responders included increasing Medicaid reimbursements for Basic Life Support and Advanced Life Support services, and requiring private insurers and Medicaid to reimburse for treatment provided by ambulance companies regardless of whether transport takes place.
One way in which local residents can help lessen the burden on our emergency responders is to prevent the need for some of their services by taking proper precautions this holiday season.
Everyone loves to decorate for Christmas, but we also need to be careful when doing so. Live Christmas trees need to be watered regularly so they don’t dry out and become a fire hazard. Trees should also be kept a minimum 3 feet away from heat sources, such as a fireplace, radiator, wood burning stove or space heater.
Candles are another fire hazard. The top three days for home candle fires are Christmas, New Year’s Day and Christmas Eve, according to the United States Fire Administration. Never leave lit candles unattended.
I would also caution everyone to read the manufacturer’s instructions when it comes to Christmas lights to make sure you don’t have too many strands connected to one another, and always throw out old strands that have frayed or pinched wiring.
Our volunteer emergency responders are always there for us when we need them, and now we need to be there for them by being vigilant about home safety and working to support them in the preparation and delivery of their life-saving services.
Representative Clint Owlett
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Tricia Lehman