Representatives Take Listening Tours to Pennsylvania Fire Stations

May 14, 2024
Pennsylvania House of Representatives staff visited fire stations to learn about the challenges of the state's fire service.

May 14—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — All area fire departments, whether they are volunteer, professional or a mixture of both, face common staffing, funding and training challenges.

State Rep. Jim Rigby, R-Ferndale, brought attention to those concerns Monday during a Pennsylvania House Fire and EMS Caucus listening tour that made stops at the Johnstown, Richland Township and West Hills Regional fire stations.

"We want to be able to showcase to the other areas just the differences between what somebody like the city of Johnstown is dealing with, what Richland Township, what West Hills deals with. ... It gives the other members of the committee a better understanding of how each of them are doing it," said Rigby, a caucus co-chair.

"Really, the No. 1 thing is they're all dealing with the shortage. From the '70s, we had 300,000, to today we have less than 36,000 firefighters" in Pennsylvania, Rigby said.

Rigby was joined on the tour by state Reps. Frank Burns, D-East Taylor Township, and caucus co-chair Lisa Borowski, D-Delaware.

"One of my goals is to learn more about what's happening across the state," Borowski said.

Borowski said she hoped the conversations would better help legislators shape policy on first responders.

"Whatever decisions we make in Harrisburg have to work across the state," Borowski said. "I can't just sit in Delaware County and be like, 'Oh, this is going to work for me.' I need to know if this is going to work out here as well.

"How are we going to collaborate to make a difference and put forth legislation that's going to help everyone across the state? I need to come out and see and talk to the people that are doing the real work. We need to come together and figure some solutions. That's kind of why I'm here."

Rigby, a former volunteer firefighter, praised the work being done by local companies.

"We're blessed in this area," Rigby said. "We really are with what we have. The level of professionalism we have in our volunteer fire companies is second to none."

Some of those volunteers decide to pursue full-time careers as firefighters, including with the Johnstown Fire Department, the only all-professional department in Cambria County.

"The number of volunteers affects what I have coming in, also," Johnstown fire Chief Robert Statler said. "When I was hired in '96, there were 150 people that tested for, like, six jobs. We do civil service testing. We have to go through that every two years. The last test we gave, we had 12 people. There was a bigger pool of volunteers (in the past)."

However, even with recruitment efforts, numbers continue to decline.

"None of it seems to be working," Statler said.


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