HARRISBURG — To address a serious shortage of volunteer firefighters across Pennsylvania, the Senate recently unanimously passed legislation creating a pilot program that would provide interested high school students with firefighting training.
Sen. Michele Brooks, R-Crawford, originally introduced the bill as Senate Bill 83 in the last legislative session. It received unanimous support from the Senate but was never elected by the House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 114, reinstated by Brooks, would award scholarships to establish firefighting education programs for high school students with the hope that they would remain firefighters for years to come.
“Pennsylvania faces a serious shortage of volunteer firefighters, with current volunteer numbers down to less than 15 percent of what volunteer numbers were in the 1970s,” Brooks said. “By encouraging school districts to partner with colleges, we can help recruit and retain firefighters when first responders are urgently needed.”
In the 1970s, Pennsylvania had 300,000 volunteer firefighters. Today there are fewer than 37,000.
This legislation would award three scholarships of $150,000 each that would be distributed to three community colleges, or PASSHE schools: one in the east, center, and west of the state. The grants will be used to set up fire training programs for high school students during the school year with the hope that they will remain firefighters for years to come.
“Our volunteer firefighter community struggles with both recruiting and retaining the heroes who respond immediately to protect our families and communities,” Brooks explained. “There are more demands on our firefighters than ever before and this legislation builds on my continued efforts to help address the challenges our responders face.”
Brooks said a similar program for EMS training was introduced in Law 104 of 2022, but for no less than $50,000 per college, and the proposals will be reviewed by the Department of Health’s Bureau of Emergency Medical Services, not the state fire commissioner.
While nothing in Law 104 of 2022 prohibits a college from including fire instruction in the pilot program, this is not guaranteed.
Senate Bill 114 has been submitted to the House of Representatives for consideration.