HARRISBURG – Western Pennsylvania needs its own top-tier urban search and rescue task force in Allegheny County. That was the major theme of a Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee hearing Tuesday in Coraopolis Borough chaired by Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-33), which focused on legislation introduced by Sen. Devlin Robinson (R-37) to address the problem.
“People in western Pennsylvania deserve the same timely response in emergency search and rescue operations that is available in the eastern side of the commonwealth,” Mastriano said. “Access to critical emergency services should not depend on which side of Pennsylvania you live in.”
Mastriano organized the joint hearing with the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee to review Robinson’s Senate Bill 792.
Pennsylvania currently has a patchwork of regional emergency response operations with the primary urban search and rescue task force located in Philadelphia. During search and rescue operations – like the Fern Hollow Bridge Collapse on Jan. 28, 2022 – when timely response is critical, western Pennsylvanians may have to wait hours for personnel and resources to arrive from the central or eastern regions of the commonwealth.
Robinson’s bill would establish a second urban search and rescue task force in Allegheny County.
“We want to establish an urban search and rescue capacity in Allegheny County to supplement the existing task force already available in Philadelphia,” Robinson said. “A western Pennsylvania urban search and rescue task force could serve this side of the commonwealth, without taking away resources or funding from Philadelphia task force’s efforts in the central and eastern regions.”
Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Randy Padfield testified before the committee and – when questioned by Robinson – confirmed the new western Pennsylvania urban search and rescue task force would in no way take financial resources away from the existing Philadelphia task force.
“We want to add to the commonwealth’s existing urban search and rescue capacity, which currently is concentrated primarily in Philadelphia,” Mastriano said. “We want to enhance the commonwealth’s ability to respond to these critical emergency situations.”
The committee also heard testimony from Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire Assistant Chief Brian Kokkila, Allegheny County Chief Fire Marshal Matt Brown and Greensburg Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Kim Houser.
Media contact: Josh Herman