Vicious circle ensnares volunteer responders


Raymond J. Barth | | Monday, August 20, 2007

There's the glamour: riding in a fast, big, shiny red truck with all the sirens wailing; the occasional media interview and the frequent talks to school children.

Being a first responder like a firefighter or emergency medical responder has its perks. Then there is reality. The compensation for putting your life on the line and saving others doesn't match up. Volunteers get paid nothing; paid staff gets paid low wages. Then there are the hours of required training to meet or exceed legislative mandates.

Now let's talk about the lack of concern. I read a recent article in The Patriot-News about Penn Twp.'s two fire companies trying desperately to make ends meet. The fire company leadership is caught in a vicious circle.

The circle starts when these concerned citizens want to provide fire and emergency protection and service. Neither of those services are free. Those red trucks cost money, ambulances don't grow on trees and nobody wants an untrained firefighter or emergency responder to care for them or their family in an emergency.

THE SAME PEOPLE who go to their elected leaders to complain about a tax for a volunteer company ought to add up the increase in their fire insurance without that company or the cost of providing public safety protection with career employees. I think those leaders should be taking a leadership role in getting the funding -- not throwing it back on the few volunteers that are still out there.

Nobody wants more taxes. Nobody wants to lose their home or business to a fire when no one is there to respond, either. Try comparing a one-mill tax increase or $100 a year to the cost of replacing your home, its contents, the family, the pets and the car in the garage when it all burns to the ground.

Next in that circle are the residents and business owners in Penn Twp. When asked to voluntarily help, it appears that no more than 160 people responded with an average contribution of $4.67. That was 12 percent of those asked to help in some way to keep fire protection local.

I've been a volunteer responder in my own community and an employee of Susquehanna Twp. EMS for many, many years. I've watched my peers or staff run to the crisis when everyone else was running away. I've been the one to pick up and save amputated parts in an attempt to bring a person's life together again.

First responders are the ones who sleep with the pager at their pillow, who pay out of their own pockets when safety equipment and supplies are not funded by the elected leadership or the pockets of local residents. We're the ones who come to the rescue, do the CPR and take your grandmother to the hospital in a crisis.

A home or business fire starts every 20 seconds in America. There is an automobile accident every five seconds. Obviously the funding need is 24/7/365.

Now is the time for elected leaders to lead, even if those they lead can't appreciate the value simply because their home hasn't caught on fire or their loved one has not been in an accident.

Now is the time for residents and business owners to step up to the plate of community safety. This is true not just in Penn Twp., but in all our townships, in the governor's office and in our commonwealth's legislative bodies.

RAYMOND J. BARTH is executive director of Susquehanna Twp. EMS.

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