SOMERSET – Sen. Pat Stefano (R-32) and the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee heard from fire chiefs, firefighters and other stakeholders about how to improve recruitment and retention of the next generation of volunteer firefighters locally and across Pennsylvania.
In addition to explaining the impact of funding challenges, testifiers highlighted the need for the community to work together in support of first responders to preserve critical access to life-saving care for all Pennsylvanians.
“While we knew before the hearing that the immense recruitment and retention struggles can’t be quickly or easily fixed, it also became clear through today’s conversation that they won’t be solved in a vacuum,” Sen. Stefano said. “Fire companies can’t do this alone, and it won’t even be enough to simply receive financial support. We need to have strong partnerships in place.”
In areas of the state that have more success recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters, high schools and community colleges play an important role.
Some high schools offer fire training and emergency medical service courses, which are targeted to recruit students. Other schools offer public safety clubs – which offer hands-on experiences, field trips and the ability to network with current career professionals – to engage the next generation.
Community colleges have expertise and training resources, such as burn buildings, to be leveraged, if only funding allows.
Legislation Sen. Stefano co-sponsored would create a pilot program to give interested high school students training in firefighting. Senate Bill 83 would award three grants of $150,000 each to community colleges and universities in the State System of Higher Education, one in the eastern, central and western parts of the state. The grants would be used to establish fire training programs for students during the school year with the hope they will remain firefighters for years to come.
Limited funding is one of many reasons that testifiers pointed to online training as a possible improvement. By eliminating travel costs, as well as students’ time away from their families and jobs, a recruitment and retention barrier is also removed. Online training, except for the hands-on modules, also offers greater flexibility for students to complete it at a time convenient for them.
“In the 1970s, Pennsylvania boasted 300,000 volunteer firefighters. Now, to have fewer than 40,000, it’s clear we need to make serious adjustments. I appreciate everyone who took time to share their experiences and ideas, which will help to inform legislation to improve recruitment and retention of our first responders,” Sen. Stefano said.
CONTACT: Nathan Silcox, 717-787-7175, firstname.lastname@example.org
At a Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee hearing hosted by Sen. Pat Stefano (R-32), committee members heard from community college representatives about the resources and expertise they have available to be leveraged. From left: Luc Miron, minority committee director; Sen. Lindsey Williams, (D-38), Sen. Stefano; Nathan Silcox, majority committee director; and Sen. Chris Gebhard (R-48).