Dec. 4th 2018, Harrisburg, PA
In Nov. of 2018 the Senate Resolution 6 Commission released their report about the state of EMS and Fire in the Commonwealth. Starting in January this commission sought to qualify and quantify the challenges and issues faced by our Emergency Services infrastructure. What they found was not promising. In fact, the report begins by this statement “Fire and EMS are in crisis – right now. Simply put, EMS is woefully lacking in funding and the number of volunteer firefighters has fallen dramatically over the decades.” – SR6 Report Introduction. All hyperbole aside, they are absolutely on point.
This statement alone should be a powerful clarion call. But can EMS and Fire in the Commonwealth expect assistance? In particular can they expect assistance before the system collapses under the astonishing weight of a increased call volumes, staffing shortages, declining reimbursements, unfunded mandates and nearly non-existent fiscal support. The Report itself seems to hint at some level of skepticism about the likelihood of timely and meaningful change; “…we hope that this Report will spur additional reflection and consideration in order to advance all of these recommendations.” – SR6 Report Introduction. Unfortunately the answer is No, many public safety professionals truly don’t expect substantial change in time to prevent more failings. After all, they’ve been warning their stakeholders of these issues for decades.
In 2004, nearly 14 years prior to the release of the SR6 report, the Senate Resolution 60 Committee released a report identifying some of the exact same problems noted in the 2018 report (here). In those 14 years EMS and Fire systems in PA have continued failing despite some well intentioned but largely ineffectual legislative attempts to stop the hemorrhage. Both Reports have called on our legislators to leap into productive action to address these difficult and nuanced issues. “Resources, funds and legislative change must be committed to improve the infrastructure for public safety performance.” – SR6 Report 2018 Page 3. But changes can be made, look at the progress that has been made on restoring critical infrastructure such as a bridges and roads throughout the Commonwealth.
Yet 14 years later we are sadly discussing most of the same issues. This isn’t to say that some progress hasn’t been made, but often it has been too little too late and/or in the wrong areas. We expect a more competent, better staffed and equipped emergency services without giving a great deal of consideration to the costs involved.
Ultimately the question that should be asked is, what would the citizens of the Commonwealth do if their emergency infrastructure collapsed underneath them? While no citizen wants to hear of possible Tax increases, without quick legislative and local action, a Tax increase will hardly be anyone’s biggest concern. Imagine your loved one is choking, you’ve been unable to free the obstruction and the nearest ambulance is now 30 minutes away. Their ultimate survival would be very much in doubt. Or imagine your stove is on fire and instead of a rapid response from dedicated volunteers in your own community, you have to wait 20 minutes for a neighboring municipal Engine Company to try and save your house, that by now is fully engulfed in flames. EMS Agencies in PA treat and transport thousands of patients. Fire Departments in PA respond to thousands of emergencies and fires. We would be imperiled without these services. The time to act is here. We have another Report, a Report the outlines a great deal of reasons why PA can’t afford to wait another 14 years without substantive change and action.
Emergency Services are an expected and vital necessity in our communities, nicely summed up in the 2004 SR60 Report: “They (FIRE/EMS) MUST be there to act, to sustain the quality of business and community lifestyle in Pennsylvania we have been accustomed to.” SR60 Report 2004 pg. 7.
STEMS is blessed with vital fiscal support from it’s municipalities, but not every agency is able to experience this assistance. Our state and local officials must understand that providing high quality emergency services in their areas and regions requires strong commitment and partnerships.
The SR6 Report was an excellent step in educating our officials about the status of the situation in the Commonwealth, but now, now we need action. More than ever, and thankfully the commission’s members put in recommendations that will result in REAL change. #ProtectTheCommonwealth
Matthew Baily, NR/CCEMT-P
Proud Supporter of Fire and EMS