State's firefighter shortage may lead to 'public safety crisis'
GETTYSBURG — In 1976, a state report estimated the number of volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania at 300,000. Today, according to state Fire Commissioner Edward Mann, that number is closer to 50,000.
During a Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee hearing on Friday in the Adams County Emergency Services Facility, firefighters, municipal officials and others painted a grim picture of the status of firefighting in Pennsylvania.
“With the dramatic drop over the years in volunteer firefighters, there is concern that there may be a public safety crisis in coming years,” Mann said.
He noted that 96 percent of firefighters statewide are volunteers. On top of that, paid departments are facing staffing crunches because of strapped municipal budgets.
In Wilkes-Barre last year, budget constraints led Mayor Tom Leighton to lay off 11 firefighters, although all were rehired this year.
Wilkes-Barre fire Chief Jay Delaney was among a dozen who were invited to offer testimony during the hearing. He told the committee that firefighters need extensive training, which is time-consuming and costly.
“We are living in a post-9/11 era, and all firefighters are emergency responders and need to be trained on all response disciplines, not just firefighting. The public demands trained, qualified emergency response personnel. Our budgets cannot continue to absorb all the additional requirements placed on today's firefighters,” Delaney said.
In her opening remarks, the committee's chairwoman, Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehigh, said the panel assembled “some of the best — and bravest — minds in the business to assess the recruitment, retention, funding and training hurdles facing the firefighters of today — and tomorrow.”
State assistance is one of the most important tools that departments — paid and volunteer — rely on annually to help purchase equipment and vehicles.
Mann noted that Pennsylvania provides more than $150 million each year to the volunteer fire service through grant and loan programs.
Last year, the Fire Company-Volunteer Ambulance Service Grant Program was increased from $25 million to $30 million, and for the first time the grant permits paid fire departments to apply, something Delaney noted in his testimony.
“This legislation was a huge boost to the commonwealth's emergency response capability,” Delaney said.
A pending bill, which gained approval in the House, is Bill 1706, sponsored by Rep. Matt Baker, R-Tioga County. It would double the loan amounts offered through the Volunteer Loan Assistance Program, which would mark the first major changes to the program since 1984.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- School credit ratings a problem for several in Western Pennsylvania
- Fugitive arrested at Plum motel on drug, gun charges
- 2 firefighters injured in Millvale house fire
- Thief’s attorney blames Rivers Casino; judge isn’t swayed
- W.Va. authorities charge 87 with drug trafficking
- Boy Scouts’ end to ban on gay leaders unnerves religious groups
- Projects advance through Pittsburgh planning commission despite opposition
- Man shot several times in Allentown neighborhood
- City, ex-manager of Pittsburgh police Office of Personnel and Finance reach settlement
- ‘Turf battle’ blamed in fights that canceled Carrick church festival
- Gaming funds OK’d for ‘promising’ firms in Allegheny County