By Rep. Anita Kulik
A few years back, I was invited to take part in a program called “Fire Ops 101.” The Pittsburgh Firefighters at the Fire Academy training facility in Allison Park gave legislators a crash course in what they do every day. We dressed in full gear with an air tank, mask and tools. We learned CPR, how to break through a door, how to crawl through wires, how to climb a ladder with gear on and how to handle a hose at a live burn.
I have said this before, and I will say it again.
Every government official should have to do this training. If you think you appreciate what our firefighters and Emergency Medical Service (EMS) providers go through, whether professional or volunteer, you do not. What these good people do on a daily basis cannot be fully appreciated until you have had a taste of what their jobs entail.
The same goes for nurses, health care aides, doctors and all those who provide healthcare to us and our loved ones. Having family in nursing and assisted living care keeps me marveling at what these people do as their jobs. So many times we watch what they do and say to ourselves, “I could never do that.” We need to then turn and think,“thank God we have people who can do that.”
The number of people in these jobs and professions are dwindling. This is not something which should go unnoticed by any of us as these people provide the most necessary services for all of us.
The Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committees in the State House and Senate continually consider legislation to assist our first responders. Last week, I attended a policy hearing on a bill that will give a sales tax exemption on fire fighting gear. I have introduced a bill that would add a $50 fee to all real estate closings, with the monies earmarked to local first responders.
Turnout gear and the accompanying equipment are extremely expensive. This gear can only be safely used for so long and then must be replaced. Constant fundraising by the local departments and economic strains on municipalities make keeping gear and equipment in safe condition difficult. The vast majority of municipalities are not in financial positions to support professional departments.
Consider the costs to just have four firefighters on each shift, and all the costs associated with equipment, protective gear, trucks, and so much more.
It is vital that we do all we can to support our volunteers. Student loan assistance
for nurses was installed last year, and the allotted funds were quickly used up as the number of applicants overwhelmed the amounts designated for the program.
This year a substantial amount more has been added to the program.
This year’s state budget also addressed the funding for our EMS companies. The reimbursement amounts to EMS providers have been much less than what is needed to keep these companies operating. More monies have been added to the funding for EMS providers to help keep them up and running.
Legislation continues to be written to help these professionals and to encourage young people to consider training and careers in these areas of service.
These professions must be prioritized in our communities.
Picture how we would be if we did not have police, firefighters, EMS personnel, nurses or other medical professionals to help us in our times of need. These good people are indispensable. They need to be treated as such.
The dwindling numbers of people willing to enter these professions are nothing short of alarming. Much has to be done to encourage students to go into these life-saving careers.
We continue as legislators to engage in discussion with our local governments and first responders to find ways to make these jobs better for the people who are willing to take them on. We cannot survive without these people. We should take every opportunity to support and thank these essential workers.