It’s 4:30 a.m. and your phone wakes you with that incredibly annoying sound and you quickly hit snooze. You have that nasty feeling in your gut it’s going to be that kind of day and come to find out your gut was right. One of those days where nothing seems to go right. Relationships are stressed, things break at work, the truck starts making a funny sound and you get a text from your son’s teacher asking for a meeting to talk. You finally make it home after a long day of work realizing you forgot to fix the fire, the water line froze again and now there’s no water. As you did throughout the day, you responded to the immediate need. Get a fire going, thaw the water line, call the teacher, figure the issue out on the truck, and finally sit down for a cup of decaf coffee with your wife to connect and hear about her day.
That’s when it happens. The loud, high-pitch tones go off alerting you to the need from your volunteer fire department. You wait anxiously to hear what the 911 dispatcher is going to say. You get another feeling in your gut. This time one of duty, service and community. The dispatcher informs the department they are due to respond to a fully involved house fire. For a quick moment you think, please not tonight. After the day I just had, now this? But then your wife looks at you and says, “I’ll start the truck, get going, another family needs you. I’ll be there with the auxiliary when you get back with hot coffee.”
A second tone goes off. This time calling Advanced Life Support ambulance service. You know the EMTs responding will likely have had a similar hard day. They already responded to three other calls and were not exactly looking forward to being out on a cold night in January. But like you, they know their mission is to serve their community and, at that moment, someone needed help. They, too, chose “Service Over Self.”
This scenario happens hundreds of times a year in Tioga and Bradford counties. Our volunteer fire and EMS put Service Over Self. Here are some facts I think everyone needs to know: In 2023, Tioga County's fire department active volunteers responded to 3,371 calls, and Bradford County’s responded to 2,789 calls. The population in Tioga County is roughly 41,000 and Bradford County is 59,800. We ran the numbers by both Tioga and Bradford counties and found that in both counties approximately less than one half of 1% of our population is actively turning out to fire emergencies and motor vehicle accidents. While EMS is a bit different with both counties running volunteer and paid EMS crews, we can run the same numbers and see a very similar statistic. At the time of this writing, Bradford County has fewer than 300 certified emergency medical service personnel and fewer than 250 in Tioga County. That puts our EMS and fire percentages of population serving at a very similar level at less than 1%.
In 2023, EMS incidents in Tioga County were 9,119 and Bradford 11,269. And let's remember that both counties have major highways and are vacation destinations for folks actively participating in outdoor recreational opportunities and adventures. Therefore, the population number is certainly much higher during outdoor seasonal times of the year when people are visiting their cabins. It’s also worth noting that since 2017, Tioga County has had 147 EMS provider licenses expire and Bradford County 157. That’s a loss of approximately 50% in Tioga County and 36% in Bradford County.
I have the privilege to honor fire and EMS members during their annual banquets across both counties. It is so encouraging to see the team effort in continuously supporting the community. It’s incredibly clear that every department, fire and EMS, needs more volunteers, and the numbers support it. Most likely at some point in your life, you or someone in your family will be calling 911 and need the help from selfless, trained professional volunteers. What would it be like if no one was there to help you?
The men and women of our local fire or EMS departments would welcome your inquiry. Why not make the call, connect with your local fire or EMS chief, and see if you can take him or her out for coffee? Start by saying “thank you” and then learn what the department’s volunteer needs are and what it takes to join their team. You never know, in just a few short months from that meeting you, too, may be putting Service Over Self and answering the call. But it starts with a cup of coffee and a conversation. Then your consideration and taking action.
You may be reading this and have a willing heart but know that reality has struck. Please know that your local fire and EMS providers need you just as much as you need them. If you are unable to serve as a firefighter or EMS volunteer, there are other ways to help. The work of our first responders could not be done without the supporting roles in the departments’ administration and operations that keep everything running smoothly. A few simple things you could do: Take time to find out when they have training and bring them brownies or treats, write a note of encouragement, help write a grant or volunteer to help with a fundraiser. Thank the business owner who employs the first responder and let them know their willingness to support the community means so much to you. And talk with the younger men and women in your life and encourage them to seek out fire and EMS training, to answer the call of Service Over Self and connect to their community.
We all have a role to play when it comes to public safety and living our Service Over Self. I humbly ask us all to think about how we can help with this incredible community need in 2024.
Representative Clint Owlett
68th Legislative District
Representative Tina Pickett
110th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Owlett Media Contact: Patricia Hippler 717-772-9846
Pickett Media Contact: Andy Briggs 717-260-6474