Bills aim to address declining fire, EMS volunteers

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Dozens of firefighters and EMS volunteers were at the state Capitol on Monday to push for a package of bills aimed at increasing their numbers.

​In the 1970s, there were about 300,000 volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania. Currently, that number is down to less than 38,000.

​​Two years ago, the SR6 Commission was formed to examine the decline of volunteer first responders.​​Now, more than 20 bills based on the commission’s recommendations are before the state House of Representatives.

Supporters say passing the bills is crucial to the future of volunteer fire departments and EMS services.

​​”By doing so, you will help to save one of the oldest traditions in our nation’s history: the volunteer fire services. If you fail to act on the remaining recommendations, then the decline will continue to happen and the fire and EMS services as we know it today will collapse,” said Charles McGarvey, the chief fire officer and fire marshal of the Lower Merion Township Fire Department.​​

Some of the bills in the package would establish incentives to volunteer, including tuition assistance and college loan forgiveness programs, cash incentives, and property tax credits.

​​Other bills focus on helping fire companies and EMS services that are strapped financially. The proposals would make it easier for companies to access loans and to recoup the costs for material and equipment used in emergency responses.

​​More than 90 percent of Pennsylvania’s 2,462 fire companies are staffed by volunteers.​

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