– With the number of volunteer emergency responders in Pennsylvania plummeting in recent decades, state Rep. Mark Gillen (R-Berks/Lancaster) helped launch an effort to reverse the trend and voted for several bills to help retain existing volunteer first responders and recruit new ones.
“We want to make sure when a Pennsylvanian dials 911 for help that someone is going to be there to answer the call and respond,” said Gillen, who is a licensed Pennsylvania emergency medical technician and serves as secretary of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.
The effort started Monday with a Capitol news conference to announce the initiative and outline a series of bills in a legislative package all aimed at supporting volunteer emergency responders in Pennsylvania.
Gillen and his colleagues then quickly got to work passing several of the bills through the House on Tuesday and Wednesday.
There were approximately 300,000 volunteer emergency responders in Pennsylvania in the 1970s. Today, that number has dwindled to approximately 37,000.
The initiative seeks to help recruit new volunteer emergency responders by offering a series of incentives, including a tuition assistance program for volunteer first responders who are pursuing a higher education.
The package also includes a proposal for a loan forgiveness program for college graduates who serve as volunteer first responders. The proposal would forgive up to $16,000 in student loan debt after four years of service.
Gillen this week voted for and the House approved both of these bills (House Bill 1773
and House Bill 1786
“We want to encourage a new generation of Pennsylvanians to answer the call to serve their communities by becoming volunteer emergency responders,” Gillen said.
The package of bills also includes legislation to retain existing volunteer emergency responders and make it easier for them to provide services to their communities.
One bill would provide an exemption from the state Realty Transfer Tax for volunteer emergency medical services companies, volunteer fire companies and volunteer rescue companies.
Another bill seeks to exempt volunteer fire, rescue and ambulance companies from burdensome government paperwork requirements, which take them away from their life-saving work in order to fulfill a government mandate.
A third bill would provide a Realty Transfer Tax exemption for the surviving spouse or minor child of a deceased first responder.
Another proposal would give volunteer fire companies more flexibility in the way they spend funds from a program that is aimed at retaining existing volunteer first responders.
Gillen voted for and the House this week approved each of these bills.
Gillen and his colleagues aren’t done working on this initiative. There is another series of bills slated to be approved by the House next week. One bill would reauthorize a popular and effective state grant program for fire and emergency medical services companies. The bill also would expand the way those companies can use the money, thereby empowering them to target the funds at efforts to retain existing volunteers or attract new ones.
“We’re taking a comprehensive approach to this important issue because public safety is a top priority,” Gillen said.
A comprehensive overview of the initiative can be viewed by visiting this site
Representative Mark Gillen
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Dan Massing
State Rep. Mark Gillen (R-Berks/Lancaster) participated Monday in a Capitol news conference to highlight legislation aimed at retaining existing volunteer emergency responders and recruiting new ones. Pennsylvania in the 1970s had approximately 300,000 volunteer emergency responders, but that numbers has dwindled to approximately 37,000 today. Gillen, who is a licensed Pennsylvania emergency medical technician and serves as secretary of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, voted for a series of bills this week that were approved by the House. State representatives are expected to continue working next week on additional bills related to the initiative.