A new PA Senate bill is proposed to help recruit more volunteer firefighters. Volunteer departments are plagued by fundraising issues and staff shortages in the Pittsburgh region and across the country, according to anarticle in USA Today. Senator Andrew Dinniman (D-19) introduced a bill to incentivize people to join volunteer fire protection and emergency medical service providers with a tax credit against their earned income tax liability. As of February 11, 2008, Senate Bill 1169 providing for municipal volunteer emergency responder incentives was passed into first consideration. Another bill introduced by Senator Donald C. White (R-41), Senate Bill 1236, would give financial incentives for Pennsylvania fire departments to create partnerships to share resources, but does not include any clauses to prevent duplication of service within these partnerships. This last action taken on this bill, however, was that it was re-referred to appropriations on October 3, 2006.
These bills reminded us of a 2006 study where fellows
at the Coro
Center for Civic Leadership researched whether there is excess capacity of fire
service within the City of Pittsburgh that can fulfill a need for service in
suburban municipalities. In
conducting this work, the Coro Fellows
referenced previous studies on this topic that found that there is an
engine and truck stations in Pittsburgh, as well as staffing. For
example, the 1996 Competitive Pittsburgh Task Force Study indicated
that Pittsburgh had a staffing complement of 894 firefighters, 66%
higher than the survey of comparable cities with an average of 538. A CMU study found that although Pittsburgh only
needs 12 engine stations and 4 truck stations to meet National Fire Protection
Agency (NFPA) Standards 90% of the time (the required amount), the City had 33
engine stations and 11 truck stations in 2004, creating much double and triple coverage.
obtain the most up-to-date information on staffing and the number of fire
stations, we consulted Denice Haas, an Assistant to the Pittsburgh Public
Safety Director. Denice explained that Pittsburgh has reduced the members of staff and stations
According to the Coro Fellow's report, the State Fire Commissioner's office should also conduct a study of the City's fire department, but should perform a needs/capacity assessment and inventory among all fire departments in the suburbs of Pittsburgh to eliminate duplication of services among Pittsburgh suburbs. From September 5th through October 3rd of 2006, Tonya Bennitt and Kate Peilemeier interviewed fire chiefs, service officials, and other municipal officials, and conducted research through the Office of the State Fire Commissioner, the Allegheny County Emergency Management team, and the internet. Their purpose was to assess whether or not there should be more intergovernmental cooperation in fire service for the greater Pittsburgh region.
Fire departments are typically staffed by volunteers in the region with some paid departments, the largest of which serves the city of Pittsburgh. Although the region's population has been in decline for over thirty years, the fire protection structure has
not changed, resulting in staff shortages and fundraising difficulties for many volunteer departments, and continued strain on the budgets of municipalities with paid departments. Some municipalities have mutual aid agreements, but there is usually little cross-over assistance between paid and volunteer departments. Bennitt and Peilemeier researched the possibility of intergovernmental cooperation between the city’s paid fire department and thirty-four surrounding municipalities, where there is one paid department, four combined, and the rest volunteer.
and Peilemeier recommended that a needs/capacity assessment and inventory among
all fire departments in the suburbs of Pittsburgh be conducted to
also recommended that the suburbs pay a fee to the city’s fire department, and
that the effort be partially funded by the State of Pennsylvania through the Volunteer
In anticipation of the TriData study, which according to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is expected to help implement changes for netting savings of $193,000, two questions come to mind:
- Will the report indicate that there is an excess of fire service in the city and if more intergovernmental cooperation can help address the shortage in fire service in the suburbs?
- If excess city capacity exists, how will this modify proposals such as Senate Bill 1169 which seeks to solve a volunteer staffing need by incentivizing municipal volunteer emergency responder service?
Fire fighting is inherently a discussion about intergovernmental cooperation. Indeed, fire fighters have the longest tradition of intergovernmental cooperation than any public service—mutual aid in answering the emergency call is both a tradition and a necessity. Intergovernmental cooperation, combined with encouraging volunteerism provides a route to assuring effective, efficient fire protection now and in the future.
To read more on fire service and intergovernmental cooperation in Pennsylvania, read the April 03, 2008 Lyceum entry entitled “York Area United Fire and Rescue: Intergovernmental Cooperation and Fire Services” by Dean Fernsler, former Local Government Policy Manager of the DCED Governor’s Center for Local Government Services.
TriData's report on their study of Pittsburgh' Fire Bureau commissioned by the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (ICA) oversight group in 2006 was released in June 2008.
Visit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website to read an article on the findings.