Editorial Submitted By Rep. Bryan Cutler – Pennsylvania House Majority Leader
Think fast – there’s been an accident. Do you know what to do if disaster strikes? Of course you do…call 9-1-1. Many of us have called it, and morning, noon or night, you can be sure someone will answer. We are blessed to live in a state where someone will answer, and help will come.
It’s a terrible thing to even imagine, but if Pennsylvania doesn’t make changes to help retain, respect and recruit emergency responders, it’s a reality some communities in our Commonwealth may have to accept.
Today, 37,000 Pennsylvanians volunteer to be emergency responders. We are grateful for each and every volunteer who is willing to give up time with their own family and friends to ensure someone is there to help strangers in need. However, if you were living here in the 1970s, Pennsylvania was home to nearly 300,000 volunteer responders. Of our Commonwealth’s 2,462 fire companies, more than 90% rely on volunteers.
This drastic drop can be attributed to the fiscal challenges of volunteering more than a lack of people willing to help. Today, volunteers are often expected to raise money, pay for their own training and purchase their own equipment. New training takes time and resources, especially for rural responders who may have to travel great distances to receive training.
Lawmakers in Harrisburg cannot sit idly by and watch our volunteer fire companies dissolve. This month we are taking action to ensure volunteers are equipped, trained and growing in Pennsylvania. Last year, a commission made up of fire chiefs, policymakers and elected leaders spent months digging into the challenges facing first responders. They provided nearly 30 recommendations to help those who are there to help us.
Our first responders are calling on us to help them in their time of need, and I am proud to say the House is answering the call and taking the lead in acting on those recommendations.
This month, the House will vote on bills to modernize training, reform incentives for both volunteers and their full-time employers, open new pathways for fire companies to recruit future members and help every firefighter and emergency responder in Pennsylvania.
We owe our deepest gratitude and appreciation to the men and women who selflessly answer the call to help any of us in our times of need. This package of bills is only a small part of doing the right thing for those who do so much. Most of all, we owe it to each other to take action now because no call to 9-1-1 should ever go unanswered.