TOWANDA (AP) - The Bradford County commissioners announced last Wednesday that they are distributing about $300,000 in Act 13 dollars to the volunteer fire companies and volunteer ambulance services that serve the county.
Act 13 refers to the state's gas drilling impact fee legislation.
Each fire company and volunteer ambulance service in the county will receive a $10,000 donation from the county, Commissioner Doug McLinko said.
Volunteer EMS and fire companies that are based outside Bradford County but which serve a portion of Bradford County each will receive a $2,500 donation, he said.
"This is something the three of us are really excited about and which is long overdue," McLinko said of the distribution of funds.
He said the donations are intended to assist fire companies and ambulance services whose resources have been strained by the Marcellus Shale gas boom.
"Since the Marcellus Shale (boom) started in our county, our first responders - fire and ambulance personnel -have been out countless hours," responding to emergencies and protecting the county, he said.
The commissioners also wanted to make the donations because of the large amount of time that fire and ambulance companies spend fundraising and undergoing training, McLinko said.
"We hope that this little bit of money can help your departments ... keep our people safe and help recruit people and buy equipment and help you do all the things you need to do," Commissioner Mark Smith said.
Each fire company and ambulance service will decide on its own how to spend the money, McLinko said.
"This money comes with no restrictions," he said. "We know that fire companies and ambulance (services) know best how to spend it."
The dollars that are being donated are a portion of the revenue that the county has received from the impact fee on gas drilling, Miller said.
The commissioners invited representatives of all the fire companies and ambulance services to their meeting last week to accept the donations. Those organizations that did not send a representative will be mailed their checks, McLinko said.
The Marcellus Shale boom started in the late 2000s in Bradford County. At the meeting, county Public Safety Director Robert Barnes presented statistics that showed how the drilling boom has impacted local emergency response agencies.
In 2009 and 2010, most, if not all, of the emergency response organizations in the county experienced an increase in the number of emergency response calls of 10 to 15 percent, each year, Barnes said.
"Motor vehicle accidents with heavy entrapment were the biggest contributor to that increase," he said.
In addition, traffic congestion that resulted from the boom "in many areas made timely response to emergency situations slow," he said.
And, he said, "road conditions in some areas made response impossible until road conditions could be repaired."
The increased volume of emergency calls "had a negative impact on many volunteers" at fire companies and ambulance services "who did not or could not commit the time needed for the increased call volume," Barnes said.
Some of those emergency responders "simply resigned from the volunteer rolls, which contributed to our situation of needing more volunteers" for emergency response departments, he said.
The decline a couple of years ago in the amount of drilling locally has eased some of the strain on local emergency response agencies, he said.
"In 2012, we saw a general decline in emergency calls of all types, but still the total calls for most departments remain well above the pre-2009 levels," he said.
Many departments are having difficulty recruiting new young members to become the next generation of emergency responders in Bradford County, he said.
Meeting some of the training requirements is difficult for some of the volunteers because of the large amount of time the training will take, he said.
"Fundraising for volunteer (emergency response) organizations is getting harder and more demanding and is consequently making it harder to meet the need for the purchases of equipment, buildings and materials to operate a successful and efficient organization at the local level," he said.
As McLinko handed a $10,000 check to Matt Harkness, chief of the South Creek fire company, McLinko said: "We hope that maybe in the future we can do this again."
Harkness replied: "We do, too."