Due to inadequate funding, staffing shortages, and rising costs, Emergency Medical Services tasked with saving others are facing their own personal emergencies across the Commonwealth. Legislative gridlock has stalled proposed bills to alleviate this growing crisis. Multiple reports, from 2004 to the present, have sounded the alarm.
In 1975, the number of PA volunteer firefighters was 360,000. By 2021, that number was estimated at 30,000. The reasons for this precipitous decline include an aging population, more people working two and even three jobs, and more households with two working spouses and less time for volunteer activities. Service costs are also soaring. Traditional fundraising methods, such as pancake breakfasts or hoagie sales, can no longer support the acquisition of new fire trucks that can cost anywhere from $500,000 to 1 million dollars.
Experts recommend consolidation and regionalization, or the pooling of manpower and resources from small into larger departments, particularly for smaller departments in less densely populated areas.
A bill to allow counties the option to create public safety authorities, Senate Bill 698, was reintroduced in May 2021 from the previous session with nine Republican and nine Democratic sponsors. The prime sponsor, Senator Lisa Baker, is a Republican representing Pike, Wayne, Wyoming and parts of Luzerne and Susquehanna Counties, all struggling with the need for better emergency coverage. Her bill would allow municipalities to join regional safety authorities according to their individual needs but without the need to replace current volunteer and career fire and EMS companies. The legislation would allow for flexible service models such as centralized administrative support and higher level of coordination.
Despite the urgent need the PA Senate’s Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee has taken no action on the measure since its introduction, even though several members of the committee are cosponsors of the legislation. Once again, that bill died in committee.
Related bills, like House Bill 2601 sponsored by Representative Jim Rigby (R-Cambria/Somerset), would give municipalities the option of seeking additional EMS funding. It was referred to the Local Government Committee in May 2022. Representative Kurt Masser (R-Columbia/Northumberland) sponsored House Bill 1293, addressing long standing billing issues plaguing emergency service providers. This bill is in its third session; it was initially introduced in 2017 and has been stalled in the Insurance Committee since April 2021.
Like many other pressing issues, this gets little attention from committee chairs, despite repeated warnings of growing crisis. Legislative rules prevent committee members from moving bills forward without chair permission. Advocates’ pleas receive no response.
Once again, another legislative session has ended without the action rural communities need.