O’Mara takes leadership role in House Firefighters and EMS Caucus

HARRISBURG, May 9 – State Rep. Jennifer O’Mara, D-Delaware, today announced she has been selected to serve as Democratic co-chair of the House Firefighters and Emergency Services Caucus, a position that will help her craft solutions for the issues emergency services are facing.  

“As the daughter of a veteran Philadelphia firefighter, I know firsthand about the issues and concerns firefighters and emergency first responders face,” O’Mara said. “In this leadership role, I hope to ensure these brave men and women, who put their lives on the line daily, are well represented in Harrisburg.”

O'Mara is the first woman to serve as co-chair of the caucus since at least the early 2000s.

One ongoing concern the bipartisan caucus is working to solve is the dwindling number of volunteer firefighters across Pennsylvania, where volunteer fire service has been a long tradition.

The state has a total of 2,354 fire departments and companies, both volunteer and career; 2,448 of those fire services are strictly volunteer; while, 22 are paid departments and 72 are paid-volunteer combination companies. Pennsylvania also accounts for 12 percent of the nation’s 20,000 volunteer fire services.

As for statewide personnel, there are currently roughly 38,000 volunteer firefighters, a stark decrease from an estimated 300,000 volunteer firefighters in 1977.

O’Mara said her hometown of Delaware County is also suffering the blow of declining numbers among its 67 fire departments and companies.

“Despite volunteer service being a rewarding vocation, and vital to the safety to most communities across the county and state, fewer people are stepping up to serve,” O’Mara said. “We know the decline in numbers is the result of so many other demands people are facing, including work and family life, as well as the tremendous amount of time it takes to sustain a volunteer department. However, this decline is a direct threat to public safety, and I am committed to working with my colleagues in Harrisburg and our departments locally to generate some solutions.”

To remedy the decline, the Delaware County Firemen’s Association previously launched a county-wide volunteer recruitment campaign to attract prospects for volunteer firefighters, EMTs, fire police and non-emergency employees.

Another issue O’Mara said she will address as co-chair of the caucus is the record high number of suicides among first responders. She is also advocating for first responders to be provided adequate mental health care.

“In 2018 alone, more first responders lost their lives to suicide than in the line of duty. Since being elected, I've heard firsthand accounts from firefighters about the work-related trauma that fills their daily lives,” O’Mara said. “These heroes need our help, but mental health care for PTSI isn’t currently covered under workers’ compensation. Why? In first responders’ line of work, traumatic events aren’t considered “abnormal” working conditions…and that’s not right.”

Founded in 1990, the House Firefighters and Emergency Services Caucus provides a direct forum for professional and volunteer departments and EMS services to share their concerns about public safety and educate legislators on issues that impact emergency service personnel. O’Mara said legislators in the caucus help to advance legislation that would help such services.