The Senate approved two bills on Tuesday that would help fire and EMS companies deal with some of the most significant challenges they face. The package focuses on easing the financial pressures faced by fire and EMS companies due to increasing costs of equipment and training., according to Senator Joe Pittman.
The bills also address the dwindling number of volunteers and other personnel dedicated to providing emergency response in Pennsylvania communities. According to the State Fire Commissioner, Pennsylvania currently has nearly 2,450 fire companies – including about 2,350 volunteer departments, more than any other state.
Senate Bill 908 would create a voter referendum to expand the Volunteer Fire Company, Ambulance Service and Rescue Squad Assistance Program to include paid fire and EMS companies. The bill would also increase the maximum loan amounts allowed by the program, expand the allowable list of uses of Fire Relief Funding and review the current funding formula. It would also move the administration of the Fire Relief Program from the Auditor General to the State Fire Commissioner.
The program was originally created with a bond issue approved by voters in 1976. The referendum would allow the state’s 22 paid companies and 72 combination paid and volunteer companies to access the program. In 2018, $55.1 million was distributed to over 2,500 municipalities to be turned over to fire relief associations.
Senate Bill 910 would extend the life of the Fire Company and Emergency Medical Service Grant Program to June 2024. The program, which was created in 2003, is currently set to expire in June of this year. The bill would also expand the use of the program to include recruitment and retention programs, as well as volunteer fire length of service awards.
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