By Rep. Steve Mentzer (R-Lititz)
With fire and ambulance services continuing to struggle across the Commonwealth, a 39-member commission created by lawmakers to study the situation issued dozens of recommendations in their report released last week.
With 90 percent of the state’s 2,500 fire companies being volunteer departments, the decrease in new volunteers is beginning to pinch local services.
Statistics show the number of volunteer firefighters has shrunk from about 300,000 in the 1980s to 38,000 today, according to the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute. Ambulance services are facing similar challenges for both volunteers and paid staff, leaving communities potentially vulnerable in emergency situations.
To reverse this trend, the commission suggests several strategies to boost recruitment and retention, including providing Length of Service Award Payments (LOSAP) and other benefit programs, funding basic fire and EMS training at the state level, and offering incentives to employers to permit trainees to attend fire and EMS training.
To further enhance training accessibility, the commission recommends including public safety as a trade/career preparatory program at career and technical education centers across the state and restoring funding for public safety training courses at community colleges.
Increased training is good for quality, but it also places real challenges on volunteers, both in terms of time and money.
Action on recommendations in the report, which is posted at RepMentzer.com, would build on two important initiatives enacted earlier this year to boost funding for the state’s ambulance services: increasing Medicaid reimbursements for Basic Life Support and Advanced Life Support services and requiring both private insurers and Medicaid to reimburse for treatment provided regardless of whether transport takes place.
During the next legislative session, I hope to explore this problem more deeply and to review thoughtfully the 27 recommendations in the study.