HARRISBURG – The state Senate recently approved a comprehensive package of bipartisan reforms to improve the delivery of fire and EMS services throughout the state, according to Senator Doug Mastriano (R-33), who supported the legislation.
Mastriano is a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee, where the bills were vetted, reviewed and discussed.
“First responders are a lifeline in our communities, often times working late in the night while families are asleep at home,” said Mastriano. “Their service is invaluable – the legislation that is going to the Governor’s desk for enactment shows that the General Assembly appreciates their sacrifice.”
House Bill 1673 includes more than a dozen different proposals that were recommended in the 2018 Senate Resolution 6 Report to strengthen fire and EMS services in Pennsylvania, including language from a Mastriano measure that would restore the state’s popular Fire & EMS grant program.
The bill contains key provisions including improvements to grant and loan programs for fire companies, new measures to support recruitment and retention of fire personnel and critical changes in the Office of the State Fire Commissioner.
Some of the highlights of the bill include:
- Requiring the reconstituted State Fire Advisory Board to review and make recommendations on the funding formula for the Volunteer Fire Relief Program and expanding eligible uses to include training, nutrition supplies, recruitment and retention, length of service award programs, facilities, vehicles, equipment, commercial driver licenses and stipends of up to $1,500 per year.
- Increasing loan amounts for facilities, vehicles and equipment through the Volunteer Loan Assistance Program (now the Fire and EMS Loan Program) and creating a ballot question that would ask voters to permit municipal (paid) fire companies to be eligible for low-interest loans.
- Authorizing counties and school districts to provide property tax credits for volunteer first responders and permitting municipalities to provide earned income tax credits or property tax credits for volunteer first responders.
- Reauthorizing the Fire Company and EMS Grant Program for four years and expanding the eligible uses of the program to include fire prevention education, recruitment and retention programs, volunteer firefighter length of service awards, construction savings accounts and revenue loss for grants issued during the next two years.
“It is amazing to me how our heroes are able to stretch these dollars and make such a good use of this program,” Mastriano said regarding the Fire & EMS grant initiative. “Reauthorizing this program is a way for the General Assembly to demonstrate that we recognize that the vehicles, equipment and training required to do this work properly is very expensive. Many of these fire companies are volunteer, and simply cannot bear the burden without this support.”
The bill also includes key changes to ensure the Office of the State Fire Commissioner serves as the primary representative for fire services. Under the bill, the Fire Commissioner would be responsible for the management of the Fire and EMS Grant Program, the Fire and EMS Loan Program, the Fire Relief Program and the State Fire Academy, as well as serving as chair of the State Fire Advisory Board.
The Office of the State Fire Commissioner would also be elevated to a cabinet-level position that must be nominated by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. The Fire Commissioner would also be required to develop curriculum and issue certifications for fire and rescue training and assist with statewide recruitment and retention efforts.
Also, Senate Bill 94 would ensure that Fire Police and other integral members of volunteer fire companies are covered under the Workers’ Compensation Act in case of injury on the job.