House committee passes bill to help Pa. EMS, volunteer fire companies
Rep. Chris Sainato’s House Bill 1834 will extend the expiring Fire Company and Emergency Medical Services Grant program if it passes the floor vote
By J.D. Prose
Beaver County Times, Pa.
LAWRENCE COUNTY, Pa. — A bill introduced by a Lawrence County legislator that would expand a state grant program to help volunteer fire companies recruit and retain members recently passed a House committee on its way to a possible floor vote.
State Rep. Chris Sainato’s House Bill 1834 would also extend the expiring Fire Company and Emergency Medical Services Grant program, which will otherwise expire next summer, for four years.
The bill was unanimously approved by the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee on Sept. 19. Sainato, D-9, Union Township, is the minority chairman on that committee.
State Reps. Jim Marshall, R-14, Big Beaver, and Anita Kulik, D-45, Kennedy Township, also sit on the committee, and both voted for the bill.
In a statement, Sainato said he introduced the bill after reading a report that found the number of volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania has dropped from about 300,000 in the 1970s to 38,000 in 2018.
The report “was a wake-up call that we need to develop new recruitment and retention strategies immediately,” Sainato said.
“This isn’t just an emergency preparedness issue. It’s a taxpayer issue,” he said. “Studies show that these volunteers save Pennsylvania communities billions annually.”
Grants under the program can currently be used by fire and rescue agencies to fund construction and renovation projects, equipment purchases, staff training, education and debt reduction.
Sainato’s bill would extend those uses to recruitment and retention with him noting on his statement that funds could be applied to length-of-service programs that reward volunteers for remaining as members or efforts to attract junior firefighters.
On Sept. 18, the same committee passed Sainato’s bill offering up to $16,000 in student loan forgiveness to volunteer first responders who serve four years with an EMS agency or volunteer fire or rescue company.
©2019 the Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.)