Committee OKs Sainato bill to expand Fire Company and EMS Grant program

Would extend program, expand uses to include recruitment, retention efforts

HARRISBURG, Sept. 24 – A bill that would extend Pennsylvania’s soon-to-expire Fire Company and Emergency Medical Service Grant program and expand its use to fund recruitment and retention efforts was unanimously approved by the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee today, according to the bill’s author, state Rep. Chris Sainato, D-Lawrence.

Sainato, who is Democratic chairman of the committee, said he introduced H.B. 1834 in response to a state report showing a decades-long decline in the number of volunteer firefighters – from about 300,000 in the 1970s to about 38,000 in 2018.

“Last year’s SR 6 Commission report was a wake-up call that we need to develop new recruitment and retention strategies immediately,” Sainato said. “This isn’t just an emergency preparedness issue – it’s a taxpayer issue. Studies show that these volunteers save Pennsylvania communities billions annually.

“The report identified the Fire Company and EMS Grant Program as an excellent vehicle for supporting these efforts. The program could be used to fund successful length-of-service programs – which recognize and financially reward volunteer firefighters after a specific length of service – and programs to attract junior firefighters.”

The grant program – which currently funds fire and rescue agency projects involving facility construction and renovation, equipment, staff training, education and debt reduction – is set to expire next summer. In addition to expanding the program’s uses, Sainato’s bill – which now heads to the House for consideration – would also extend the program for four more years.

Last week, the committee unanimously approved another Sainato bill that would help retain and recruit volunteer emergency responders by offering student loan forgiveness after four years of service.