Bill addresses financial needs of first responders
Local lawmakers support legislation passed through the state House Finance Committee this week to provide financial help to emergency first responders with their equipment needs.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Clint Owlett, R-Wellsboro, offers tax credits of up to $500 for purchases out of their own pockets.
“The men and women who serve as volunteer firefighters and first responders already give so much of themselves to the vital mission of protecting public safety in our communities. To have them purchasing their own safety equipment as well simply doesn’t seem right,” Owlett said. “But with fire companies and other first responder organizations struggling financially, there often is no other option.”
State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, noted the high cost for equipment needed by first responders at a time when finding volunteers for firefighting and other emergencies is becoming more difficult.
“If you call 911, the fire truck or ambulance shows up,” he said. “Unfortunately, the average citizen doesn’t know the issues they face.”
State Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Loyalsock Township, said first responders certainly need help.
“Do I support it (bill)? The answer would be yes,” he said.
The House bills are part of the “Heroes and Helpers” initiative aimed at providing support and assistance to volunteer fire and emergency services organizations in recruiting and retaining volunteers needed to continue answering calls, according to Owlett.
In addition to Owlett’s proposal, the package includes bills that would provide other incentives to volunteers, such as property or income tax credits, tuition assistance and loan forgiveness. Other measures would provide increased funding opportunities with greater flexibility for emergency responder organizations, expand access to online training, and create stress management programs for first responders.
“We all know there is a problem of funding and finding volunteers,” Everett said.
He noted that more demanding training standards for first responders, particularly Emergency Medical Technicians, make it particularly difficult to find people to fill those spots.