Editorial: Show volunteers they are valued
We can’t afford to lose the people who keep us safe.
But we are.
In Pennsylvania, there are 2,463 fire companies. More than 90% of them are staffed by volunteers. According to state Rep. Bob Brooks, R-Murrysville, the number of firefighters had been falling for 30 years or so when it hit 68,000 first responders in the early 2000s.
In 2018, it had fallen further, hitting 38,000.
In a state of 12.8 million people, that means just one volunteer firefighter out of every 337 people. Or, to rephrase, just one volunteer firefighter protecting every 337 people.
That’s not enough. We need more, especially considering the firefighters we do have are getting older. According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, the average age is 50. That makes recruiting younger volunteers all the more critical.
A 2016 law gave municipalities the ability to offer a property tax credit to first responders to encourage more volunteers to get involved.
Brooks has proposed an expansion of that act that would allow counties to offer the same option, while boosting local allowances from 20% of an active volunteer’s tax liability up to the full 100%.
“Recruitment and retention of volunteers in our emergency services community is vital, and our local companies are suffering from the lack of ability to recruit and maintain volunteers,” Brooks said.
The legislator called it a way to say thank you to emergency personnel. It is more than that.
It is a way to express the value of what firefighters and other volunteer emergency providers do, which is save our lives and our homes, at the risk of their own lives.
Brooks’ bill passed the House with a unanimous vote. The state Senate should do the same.