By Rep. Anita Kulik
September has been recognized and celebrated as National Preparedness Month. During this month, first responders and government offices and agencies have put out information on citizen preparedness in emergency situations.
The theme for this year’s recognition is “Take Control 1,2,3” and is aimed at preparing older adults who are at greater risk during emergency situations to not only be prepared for potential disasters but also to know that there are folks that they can rely on if the need arises.
As we come to the end of September, I want to discuss some of the important considerations that we all must have. It’s vitally important to have a family plan in place in the event of fire, flood, or any other emergency. It is likewise important to have a plan in place to help vulnerable family, friends and neighbors. If you had a fire in your home, do you have a plan that includes a place to meet? Your young child should know to head to the home of a particular neighbor, or to a specific location such as an intersection or the like.
Preparedness information can be found on the National Preparedness Month 2023 website or for older adults at Ready.gov/olderadults.
This month also is a good time to recognize our first responders. Whether fire, EMS, or police, these are the people who are willing to lay their own safety on the line to protect the citizens of our communities.
In today’s world, our first responders need extra attention. Overhead costs, low reimbursement rates for the services they provide, and recruitment and retention problems are all issues our local departments face in one way or another.
The House has numerous bills sitting in committee that address the needs of our first responders.
House Bill 182 seeks to establish a reimbursement program with the State Fire Commissioner’s Office to cover the cost of turnout gear for all eligible firefighters. House Bill 187 would help fire companies who require physical examinations for their members by reimbursing some of the costs for the annual exam.
Another issue being addressed through legislation is House Bill 349 which would designate 911 dispatchers to be recognized as first responders. This would aid in grants and reimbursements.
House Bill 680 would amend Title 35 (Health and Safety) to clarify that firehouses – not only the fire companies – can apply for and receive grants.
Volunteer first responder companies have a very difficult time keeping and recruiting volunteers.
This is reaching a crisis level not only in Pennsylvania but across the nation. Dwindling numbers could result in dwindling services and safety to our citizenry.
Available time and training requirements keep many willing people from becoming volunteers. House Bill 1154 seeks to address some of these issues.
This bill would encourage private employers to permit an employee who is an active volunteer to leave work in response to an emergency call. Further, it would encourage private employers to permit an employee who is an active volunteer to take a paid leave of absence at the request of a fire chief to participate in training exercises that are deemed necessary.
The bill would also give tax credits to private employers who allow an employee-volunteer to leave work for training or to respond to an emergency call.
Post-traumatic stress injuries pose a growing concern among first responders. Such injuries are real and require proper medical attention. House Bill 1632 would ensure that these injuries are covered under workmen’s compensation for first responders.
These and many other bills are waiting for committee consideration. We cannot have a functioning society without properly trained and staffed first responder units. These issues must be a priority at all levels of government and society.