Senate Sees Bill to Help Firefighter, EMS Recruiting

Volunteers from the Sanatoga and Ringing Hill fire companies (at top) as they prepared for a smoky house training exercise on Evergreen Road in Lower Pottsgrove during August 2020

HARRISBURG PA – Proposed legislation that advocates say intends to provide “new tools” to help fire and emergency medical services (EMS) organizations recruit and retain personnel is now awaiting review by the Pennsylvania Senate’s Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee. The same measure was unanimously passed last week (Sept. 21, 2022) by the state House of Representatives.

Currently known as House Bill 1178, the law as currently written proposes to:

  • Offer $1,000 in tuition assistance per year for full-time students, and $500 annually to part-time students, who volunteer. Students would be required to participate in 30 percent of the organization’s activities, must have been a volunteer for at least one year, and must promise to volunteer for another five years after their graduation;
  • Provide $1 million for scholarships to EMS providers who complete approved training;
  • Supply an additional $1.5 million in funding for EMS companies through the state’s annual Fire Company and Emergency Medical Services Grant Program;
  • Create a $500,000 municipal fire department capital grant program to build, renovate or otherwise modernize facilities, and purchase or repair equipment;
  • Ensure that fire or EMS companies that have merged or consolidated will continue to receive as much grant funding as they would have received if they had remained separate; and
  • Allocate $250,000 to the current firefighter online training program, and $250,000 for a public service campaign on the safe operation of fireworks.

Elected officials have earlier acknowledged the difficulties fire companies, fire departments, and emergency medical services agencies encounter in trying to maintain or grow their staffing. Members of the public are increasingly busier with their daily lives, and the pool of available volunteers continues to shrink, they agree. For EMS volunteers in particular, they report, training affordability also is a major hurdle.

Sen. Patrick J. Stefano of western Pennsylvania is committee chair, and Sen. Katie Muth – who represents portions of western Montgomery, eastern Berks, and northern Chester counties – serves as minority chair. Both are members of the Senate Legislative Fire and EMS Caucus.

Photo by The Post from its archives