Pennsylvania Volunteer Firefighter Shortage May Have Negative Impact

In 1976, a state report estimated the number of volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania at 300,000. Today, according to state Fire Commissioner Edward Mann, that number is closer to 50,000, reports The Times Leader.

During a Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee hearing on Friday in the Adams County Emergency Services Facility, firefighters, municipal officials and others painted a grim picture of the status of firefighting in Pennsylvania.

"With the dramatic drop over the years in volunteer firefighters, there is concern that there may be a public safety crisis in coming years," Mann said.

He noted that 96 percent of firefighters statewide are volunteers. On top of that, paid departments are facing staffing crunches because of strapped municipal budgets.

In Wilkes-Barre last year, budget constraints led Mayor Tom Leighton to lay off 11 firefighters, although all were rehired this year.

Wilkes-Barre fire Chief Jay Delaney was among a dozen who were invited to offer testimony during the hearing. He told the committee that firefighters need extensive training, which is time-consuming and costly.

"We are living in a post-9/11 era, and all firefighters are emergency responders and need to be trained on all response disciplines, not just firefighting. The public demands trained, qualified emergency response personnel. Our budgets cannot continue to absorb all the additional requirements placed on today's firefighters," Delaney said.

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