HARRISBURG – With Pennsylvania facing a crisis as the number of volunteer emergency responders plummets and communities lose protection, state Rep. Mark Gillen (R-Berks/Lancaster) and his colleagues on the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee on Tuesday approved a package of bills aimed at recruiting and retaining volunteer first responders.
“We rely on volunteer first responders to protect our communities, but their ranks are dwindling,” Gillen said. “We need to find new ways to attract and retain people to fill this important role in our communities.”
There were approximately 300,000 volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania in the 1970s. In recent years, that number has plummeted to below 30,000.
Gillen and his colleagues voted to approve a package of bills aimed at reversing the trend.
House Bill 1834
would reauthorize the $30 million annual fire and emergency medical services (EMS) grant program.
Other bills in the package are aimed at helping first responders with common issues posed by the positions. House Bill 432
would add post-traumatic stress injuries to the list of illnesses and injuries that qualify someone for worker’s compensation benefits. House Bill 1459
would direct the Pennsylvania Department of Health to establish a mental wellness and stress management program for Pennsylvania first responders.
“We are looking at ways to provide more support for our volunteer first responders,” Gillen said. “We want to recruit more volunteers and then provide them with the tools they need to succeed in these positions.”
Some of the bills focused more on supporting the volunteer companies and ensuring they are properly equipped. House Bill 1838
would increase the penalties on certain traffic violations and use the increased revenue to support the Emergency Medical Services Operating Fund, which helps with training and equipment costs. House Bill 1816
would increase loan limits for volunteer fire and EMS companies.
All of the bills now head to the state House for consideration.
Representative Mark Gillen
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Dan Massing
Local communities could be safer and volunteer first responders could receive more support under a package of bills approved this week by state Rep. Mark Gillen (R-Berks/Lancaster) and his colleagues on the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee. With the number of volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania dropping from approximately 300,000 in the 1970s to fewer than 30,000 today, lawmakers are looking to offer a variety of incentives.