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Pennsylvania’s Townships Demand Immediate Special Legislative Session to Tackle Volunteer Fire and EMS Crisis

Thursday April 26th, 2018

Township officials across the state passed a resolution today demanding that Gov. Tom Wolf call a special legislative session to address the volunteer crisis affecting local fire and emergency management services (EMS). The resolution was unanimously adopted during the business session of the 96th Annual Educational Conference of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS), which took place April 22-25 in Hershey.

 PSATS President Shirl Barnhart kicked off discussion about the volunteer firefighter crisis by calling attention to the problems that township supervisors face in keeping their residents safe and protected at a time when volunteers are dwindling and costs are soaring. In recent decades, he said, volunteers at fire companies have dropped from 300,000 strong in the 1960s and ’70s to below 50,000 today, a sobering statistic that threatens the volunteer model for providing this vital public safety service.“If state and local governments don’t find a way to recruit and retain these very necessary volunteers, communities will be forced to pay nearly $10 billion a year for fire service, according to figures cited by the state fire commissioner,” Barnhart, a supervisor and volunteer firefighter in Morgan Township, Greene County, said.

 He ended his address by requesting that the governor call a special session of the legislature to act immediately on the volunteer fire crisis.  “We have been dealing with the crisis involving fire and EMS for too long,” he said. “It’s time that our hard-working fire companies and volunteers receive the attention and recognition they deserve from Harrisburg." “This is not to distract from the current opioid crisis . . . it is related,” Barnhart continued. “We are talking about the need for first responders. They are the front lines of the opioid battle, and we can’t afford to lose any more foot soldiers if we are going to be able to respond to overdose calls.”