When the bell rings and the siren sounds, they are there. Our fire and emergency medical service (EMS) providers are the helpers and heroes on the frontlines, committed to saving lives and keeping our communities and families safe. Being an emergency medical services professional ranks among the most dangerous jobs in America, as these individuals are exposed to dangerous situations and illnesses each and every day.
The citizens and visitors of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania benefit daily from the services, knowledge, and skills of these fire and emergency medical service providers?career and volunteer providers who routinely place the safety and well-being of others above their own.
Pennsylvania emergency response professionals, however, face a current but continuing dilemma that deals with organizational design, service delivery, staffing, resources and more. Over the years, service demands, training, available time to volunteer and other issues challenge maintaining the readiness of emergency services organizations, especially as the costs of emergency assets and resources adequate to address increasingly complex emergencies continue to rise.
There were approximately 300,000 volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania in the 1970s. In recent years, that number has plummeted to below 30,000. The number of emergency medical technicians (EMT) has fallen by over 6,000 since 2012, while the number of paramedics is down by 4,000 providers in the same period of time. The Bureau of EMS estimates the number of active providers in the system is approximately 17,000 statewide, down from over 30,000.
The requirement for EMS professionals is unique—they must be available to respond 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They cannot limit readiness time like other health care providers who determine their operating hours and can schedule patients. Additionally, the impact of societal issues has affected EMS providers as many have left their EMS careers because of varied levels of post-traumatic stress disorder.
To help address these issues and more, my colleagues and I in the PA House have been working on a series of bills aimed at recruiting and retaining volunteer first responders. The bills are designed to address staffing and funding challenges facing these vital public safety organizations.
The legislative package will work to expand and increase the maximum loan amounts available through the Volunteer Loan Assistance Program, as well as to reauthorize the Fire and EMS Grant Program administered by the Office of State Fire Commissioner (House Bills 1448
Two other measures aim to address stress management and post-traumatic stress injuries for first responders (House Bills 432
House Bill 1839
would authorize counties to offer a property tax credit for volunteer first responders as an incentive to get more people involved in the emergency service fields.
To help rural EMS providers, House Bill 1869
would allow the Department of Health to grant waivers to staffing requirements on a Basic Life Support (BLS) service ambulance in sixth- through eighth-class counties.
Finally, House Bill 1838
would increase funding for the Emergency Medical Services Operating Fund and require 30% of the funds to be used to provide training to underserved rural areas and 10% of the funds to be used for medical equipment for ambulances.
We rely on volunteer first responders to protect our communities and we are so grateful for their selfless sacrifice. As your state representative, I will continue my efforts to advocate for new ways to attract and retain people to fill this important role in our communities.
If you have questions or concerns or want an update on this legislative initiative, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office by calling my office at 717-783-9087.
Representative Curt Sonney
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Brooke Haskell