HARRISBURG – Continuing the effort to help the state’s vital emergency response agencies, the House and Senate have approved and sent to the governor’s desk legislation designed to help address financial and personnel challenges within the organizations, said Rep. Clint Owlett, prime sponsor of the measure.
“Our fire and ambulance companies are struggling to keep their doors open to continue meeting the needs of our communities,” Owlett said. “It’s important for state government to step up and help.”
To boost recruitment and retention of personnel, the bill provides funding for tuition and loan assistance for higher education as an incentive to students who volunteer for fire and EMS services. It also allocates $1 million to fund scholarships for EMS providers who successfully complete approved training to make that training more affordable to build the EMS workforce. The Bureau of EMS would receive $50,000 to administer the program.
“It is so important to recruit the next generation of emergency responders, and once they have gone through the necessary training, we also need them to continue their service,” Owlett said. “These types of initiatives are designed to give our first responder agencies additional tools to help with personnel needs.”
The bill also dedicates funding to helping the organizations meet growing financial demands. Specifically, the bill provides $1.5 million in additional funding for EMS companies through the annual Fire Company and Emergency Medical Services Grant Program; $500,000 for a grant program to support capital improvements to first responder emergency services training facilities; $500,000 for a municipal fire department capital grant program to build, renovate or otherwise modernize facilities, and purchase or repair equipment; and $250,000 for the current firefighter online training program.
It would also provide $500,000 to bomb squads for the safe removal, transportation, storage and destruction of confiscated fireworks; and dedicate $250,000 for a public service campaign on the safe operation of fireworks.
Finally, the bill would ensure fire and/or EMS companies that have consolidated will continue for a period of 20 years to receive the same level of grant funding they would have had they not merged.
Owlett first introduced House Bill 397
to make a technical change in the law authorizing both counties and school boards to implement a tax credit program for active volunteer emergency responders. It was subsequently amended to include initiatives advanced by other members of the House to both support first responder organizations financially and provide tools to help recruit and retain personnel. Most of the measures were previously included in legislation authored by Rep. Jerry Knowles (R-Berks/Carbon/Schuylkill).
“This is a great example of how lawmaking should work,” Owlett said. “We brought a lot of good ideas to the table to address a very serious issue impacting communities across the state but especially in rural areas like ours. I’m pleased to see this bill heading to the governor’s desk.”
The governor has 10 days to either sign the bill into law or veto it, or he may allow it to become law without his signature.
Representative Clint Owlett
Pennsylvania House of Representatives