HARRISBURG—Lawmakers from Southeast Pennsylvania announced that they will support legislation to aid the state’s emergency responders, including those in Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties.
Among the bills to be voted on in the next two weeks are legislation to exempt first responders and volunteer fire and EMS companies from the Realty Transfer Tax, a bill to help first responders with Post Traumatic Stress Injury, and legislation to create the Tuition Assistance for Active Volunteers Program to help first responders defray the cost of higher education.
“The package is necessary to reverse the significant drop in volunteer emergency responders throughout the state by providing a broad package of programs to assist our first responders” said Rep. Frank Farry (R-Bucks).
The number of volunteer EMS workers has dropped to 37,000 from a high of 300,000 in the 1970s. Of Pennsylvania’s 2,462 fire companies, more than 90% are volunteer companies.
“This drop is attributed to requiring our volunteers to raise funds to pay for their own training, purchase equipment and maintain facilities,” said Rep. Todd Polinchock (R-Bucks), adding that it costs more than $28,000 to equip one firefighter with the proper equipment. State fire officials estimate that volunteer firefighters save Pennsylvania communities about $10 billion annually.
“At the same time, we’re not adequately caring for volunteers when they suffer from the physical and mental stress caused by their responsibilities,” said Rep. Wendi Thomas (R-Bucks), who with Polinchock co-sponsored House Bill 1459
co-authored by Farry to create the Emergency Responder Mental Wellness and Stress Management Program for first responders, including 911 dispatchers and coroners.
Between Jan. 1, 2018, and June 30, 2018, a total of 1,844 EMS providers allowed their EMS certification to expire, removing them from the Commonwealth’s EMS workforce. While the number of individuals seeking to become certified as an EMT is increasing statewide, the rate of newly certified providers does not balance the rate of loss.
The House is expected to vote on a package of bills starting Oct. 21.
Among them are expected to be House Bill 269
, co-authored by Farry, which would provide an exemption from the Realty Transfer Tax (RTT) for the transfer of real estate from the surviving spouse or minor child of a first responder within five years of the first responder’s death; and House Bill 732
, sponsored by Rep. Chris Quinn (R-Delaware), to provide an exemption from the RTT for the transfer of real estate to or by a volunteer EMS company, fire company or rescue company.
“Under current law, if a volunteer service provider acquires new property from a party who is not an instrumentality of the state or another volunteer service organization, they are liable to the state for a 1% realty transfer tax,” Quinn said. “This is a significant burden on these brave men and women who make our communities safe. They deserve our support.”
House Bill 432
, sponsored by Rep. Steve Barrar (R-Chester/Delaware), would expand post-traumatic stress injury benefits for first responders. Under the bill, police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics would be entitled to benefits under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Law for psychological injuries arising from their employment, or after four years or more of service, regardless of whether the injury is accompanied by physical injuries requiring medical treatment.
“First responders routinely witness trauma, crisis situations and death in their line of work and it can be overwhelming,” said Barrar, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Services Committee. “That’s why I’m sponsoring House Bill 432. It defines post-traumatic stress injury and enables first responders to get the help they need to address mental health issues stemming from traumatic events.”
Farry’s House Bill 1673
would allow volunteer fire relief money to be used for retention of existing volunteer members and providing incentives for recruiting new volunteer firefighters.
“One example is the Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP), a system established to provide tax-deferred income benefits to active volunteer members of a fire service,” Farry said. “Another is for the assistance and protection of volunteer firefighters in order to provide necessary training, as well as funding for recruitment and retention of volunteers.”
Also scheduled for a vote:
• House Bill 1786
would create the First Responder Loan Forgiveness Program for indebted college graduates who are active members of an emergency medical services agency, volunteer fire company or volunteer rescue company. Up to $16,000 of the graduate’s loans would be forgiven after four years of service.
• House Bill 1839
would give counties the option of providing a property tax credit to qualified active volunteers to be applied against an active volunteer’s property tax liability.
• House Bill 1773
would create the Tuition Assistance for Active Volunteers Program for first responders. An active member of a volunteer fire company or EMS agency who attends an approved institution of higher learning would be eligible to receive tuition assistance. Program is modeled after the PA National Guard education assistance program.
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: David Foster