$30 million boost for fire, EMS might not be enough | News, Sports, Jobs

Deputy State Fire Commissioner JC Tedorski testifies at a House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee hearing June 12.

Gov. Josh Shapiro has proposed an additional $30 million to bolster fire companies and emergency medical services, but lawmakers are concerned about how state leaders want to distribute the money.

At a House Veterans and Emergency Preparedness Committee hearing Wednesday, Deputy State Fire Commissioner JC Tedorski explained how the Office of the State Fire Marshal wishes to spend the potential funding.

Half the money would be used to increase the base amount available to 2,400 fire and emergency rescue companies that apply for a grant; $7.8 million (26%) would be provided in grants to counties to study regionalization attempts and recruitment/retention efforts; $6 million (20%) would go to a separate program for rapid response service for EMS groups licensed by the Department of Health.

The rest, $1.2 million, would be for specialized emergency services teams.

EMS funding is an ongoing issue across the state. Labor shortages, rising costs and a lack of stable financing have pushed some businesses to close and officials have warned of a looming crisis.

After Tedorski explained the plan, lawmakers reiterated those issues.

“I'm a little concerned that $6 million won't be enough. That’s about $12,500 per team. said Rep. Paul Takac, D-State College. “If you look at the $7.8 million for the regionalization effort, we have 67 counties, that’s $116,000 for each of them.”

Financial difficulties have led some businesses to seek local levies to keep ambulance crews operating. Many townships and communities in Pennsylvania do not have a dedicated funding stream for EMS services.

“Our rural EMS agencies really need a lot of help” » said Takac. “When you travel on our highways or go to camps or national parks, you don't take your level of fire and EMS coverage with you from home. You depend on the services available locally.

Regionalization has been touted as a potential solution to budget holes and labor shortages, but some lawmakers have argued that not all regions are ready for regionalization. Others have more pressing needs before restructuring.

“I talked to EMS after EMS and heard they couldn't hire,” Rep. Jim Haddock, D-Hughestown, said.

The State Fire Commissioner's Office is willing to discuss funding allocations, Tedorski said, but its current proposal focuses more on funding for fire companies. Fire and EMS have warned lawmakers of their financial problems.

“The $20,000 base payment to our local firefighters is not enough” said Rep. Dane Watro, R-Hazleton. “I meet them regularly every week and they have difficulties, they suffer. This weekend, they're having their annual bazaar – they're flipping hash browns, making pierogies – just to try to raise money.

On Wednesday, the Senate unanimously passed a bill renewing the grant program. It awaits consideration in the House.

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