Supporting our First Responders
As a member of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, I am strongly advocating for greater support for our volunteer emergency service companies. Across the Commonwealth, first responder agencies are in dire need of volunteers. Our current economy has made it increasingly difficult for volunteer recruitment and retention. It is crucial that we address this concern now, as costs related to hired response teams would be detrimental for local municipalities.
Recognizing the challenges facing our emergency service companies, in 2017 the legislature adopted Senate Resolution 6. This resolution created a statewide commission to analyze the volunteer shortage and develop recommendations. Recently, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved the following bills, based on the commission’s recommendations, to help these organizations address the critical volunteer shortage while assisting those who answer the call.
The bills include:
- HB 1839, HB 1705: Property Tax Relief for Volunteers – active members of volunteer fire companies and non-profit ambulance companies listed on their primary residence’s property tax bills would be eligible for credits of up to 100% of their property taxes, depending on local ordinances and school districts.
- HB 1773, HB 1786: Student Loan Help for Volunteers – active members of volunteer fire companies and non-profit ambulance companies could get tuition assistance and forgiveness on existing student loans.
- HB 1780: Exempting volunteer companies from Right-To-Know laws. These requests are time intensive for short-staffed volunteer organizations. State agencies would still be subject to Right to Know requests related to state funding provided to these organizations.
- HB 1673: Expanding Firefighter’s Relief Funds – would make it easier to use these dollars to best fit community needs, including investing in training, recruiting new members and recognizing those with a long record of service.
- SB 146: Creating online training – when appropriate, certified online programs would count towards training requirements.
- HB 732, HB 269: Ending Realty Transfer Taxes – property owned by companies or by active volunteers fallen in the line of duty could be transferred to a spouse or child without paying a Realty Transfer Tax.
- HB 1048: Ending the Liquor License Surcharge – would eliminate the $700 annual application surcharge to renew a liquor license for volunteer fire companies and national veterans’ organizations.
- HB 1816: Would increase grant program dollar amounts to aid volunteer fire and EMS companies in purchasing vital safety equipment.
- HB 1869: Relaxing Staffing Requirements in Rural Areas – what works in cities or densely-populated suburbs doesn’t always work in rural areas. This bill would give companies more leeway when it comes to crewing BLS ambulances to better serve their communities.
- HB 1459: Helping Volunteers Protect Themselves – volunteer emergency responders are asked to handle high-stress, high-stakes emergencies, but when the call is over, they don’t always have a support system available to help them process what they’ve experienced. This bill would give them the help they need, backed up by state support.
- HB 1834: Expanding State Grant Funding Uses – this legislation would give volunteer organizations more control over how to spend grant funding to better recruit and retain volunteers and build new facilities in addition to buying safety gear and new apparatus.
- HB 1838: Changing the EMS Operating Fund – volunteer companies in rural areas have a tough time raising the funds needed for BLS ambulances and crew. This bill would increase the penalties for moving violations and DUIs and use that money to help ambulance companies serve their communities.
- HB 1758: Delivering Accident Reports to Companies – volunteer companies would be able to get accident reports from all police departments for insurance purposes free of charge in a program administered by the PA State Police.
It was my honor to fight for these bills at the State Capitol. I am confident that the Senate will act quickly and Governor Wolf will sign them into law. As session moves forward, I will continue to advocate for our emergency service companies, specifically to address PTSI and workers compensation concerns.