Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-1), Member of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, along with State Representative Frank Farry (R-142) and State Representative Jennifer O'Mara (D-165), Co-Chairs of the Pennsylvania House Fire and Emergency Services Caucus, launched a Joint Federal / State Task Force to address the immense budgetary and manpower challenges faced by volunteer Fire Companies in Bucks County and across Pennsylvania. For decades, there has been a decline in volunteers across Pennsylvania. In the 1970s, there were about 300,000 volunteer firefighters across the state. Today, that number is less than 40,000.
“Volunteer fire departments are an incredibly important piece of our communities. This spirit of volunteerism was one that was passed down through generations and has unfortunately slowed in recent years,” said Fitzpatrick. “In a state where over 90% of fire departments are volunteer, these challenges must be addressed. We are beyond a crisis point. We must work together to support these volunteers and find resolutions to these problems. This is an imminent public safety issue.”
“As a 30-year volunteer firefighter and a member of the SR6 commission that studied fire and EMS issues in PA, I applaud this joint Federal and State effort to assist our first responders,” said Farry. “It is the responsibility of all levels of government to ensure our first responders have the resources they need.”
“This task force will work on the ground level with our communities to address a statewide and national problem that affects the public safety of our homes, our schools, and much more. As the daughter of a firefighter, I know firsthand that the job is tough and can only be performed by people with the heart to serve. It is my mission to make sure that our government gets this right,” said O’Mara. “Our top focus must be to recruit, retain, and protect our country’s bravest men and women. I’m ready to get to work.”
The recruitment and retention challenges facing volunteer fire departments are nothing new. Across the country, community fire departments are struggling to recruit and retain firefighters. The demands on time can be the biggest challenge with recruiting and retaining volunteers. Volunteers sacrifice precious time with friends and family. Financially, many choose to take on a second job to pay bills as opposed to focusing on volunteer efforts.
There are several legislative initiatives that could be used to help remedy the challenges our volunteers face. Something as simple as a junior firefighter program and emergency medical technician training for high school students could lead to long term benefits with regards to recruitment and retention. Tax incentives and pension reforms could also benefit local fire departments. Currently, most tax incentives for volunteer firefighters are classified as charitable deductions or as a state tax credit. Increasing the rate of deduction could entice more citizens to volunteer. Similarly, increasing the yearly retirement payment could help with retaining firefighters.