Ten fire companies and municipalities came to the Huntingdon Council of Governments meeting Wednesday at the Oneida Township building to brainstorm ways to help rural fire companies.
David Smead is a fire chief for Shavers Creek Fire Company. He says one of the biggest reasons people don’t volunteer for their local fire company is because they’re too busy with work. He says there are ways business owners could help.
“Having local businesses allow the employees to leave during normal business hours is helpful,” Smead said. “If you have a small business and you can afford to let a volunteer firefighter respond.”
Stewart Neff with the council says if things get worse, it’ll fall on taxpayers.
“If it falls back on local municipalities who are responsible to their citizenry to provide a safe environment, then you have to have paid fire and paid EMS, taxes are going to go extremely high,” Neff said.
Smead says all rural fire companies are hurting for funds and manpower but they need to do a better job of educating the public about the need and how they can help.
“They think that it’s something special, where you have to go to school for it or something else, so educating the public on how they can volunteer and help and we’ll take care of the training,” Smead said.
In the end, it was agreed that they needed to start working on an education initiative. This education program will be presented to local communities, educating them on how they can help.
At the meeting, Representative Rich Irvin reiterated that the Pennsylvania House passed legislation in November that would give incentives for volunteer firefighters, including tax credits for college students, or for property owners.
It is now up to the state Senate to pass the bills.