Proposed bill allocates $10 million for volunteer fire stations to build living quarters
A state lawmaker introduced legislation in July that would allow volunteer fire departments to build living quarters at their stations by allocating $10 million into a new fund.
State Rep. Jason Ortitay, R-Bridgeville, said he was inspired by a conversation he had a few years ago with Rennerdale Volunteer Fire Chief Dave Brown.
“These volunteer fire departments are struggling, they don’t have enough volunteers,” Ortitay said.
He said the so-called Volunteer Fire Company Physical Improvement Fund would help fire stations around the state construct live-in programs. The money would come from the state’s Public Transportation Trust Fund.
Brown said his fire station gets several volunteers who are still in high school.
“When they graduate, they typically leave for college,” Brown said. “But if we had a way to house the firemen, like a dorm style type area – and renovate the station to support this – we could have a fully staffed firehouse that would cost taxpayers nothing.”
The Rennerdale fire station in Collier Township has 35 volunteers, a full-time EMT and paramedic. The station covers roughly 14 square miles and fields around 1,400 calls a year, Brown said.
“We receive $90,000 per year from the township. The cost of our operations is over $200,000 … the rest of the money is fundraised. It’s a struggle,” Brown said.
The proposed bill comes at a time when stations around the state are trying myriad methods to attract and keep volunteers.
Gov. Tom Wolf signed a law in 2016 that gave municipalities authorization to grant local tax credits to firefighters. Several around the region have taken advantage of that.
Ortitay’s bill is currently under scrutiny of the Veterans Emergency and Preparedness Committee.
“They’re not huge fans of the program,” Ortitay said, adding its members would rather expand the state’s existing annual fire grant to allow fire stations to build live-in facilities to support a scholarship program like Monroeville’s.
“I’m fine with doing that. I just want to give the live-in program a chance. It’s the future to bring in volunteers,” the representative said.
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @dillonswriting.