SMITHTON, WESTMORELAND COUNTY – With the goal of boosting recruitment, improving training and retaining emergency responders in Pennsylvania, Rep. Eric Davanzo (R-Westmoreland) brought emergency personnel professionals together to testify before the House Majority Policy Committee.
“Local emergency response organizations are struggling to attract and retain employees and volunteers,” said Davanzo. “Those who currently serve our communities go above and beyond every single day to keep us safe and healthy, but they can’t do it alone. I hosted this hearing because I want to get to the root problems of the emergency responder staffing struggle and work to create solutions.”
Recurring themes of testimony offered during the hearing included recruitment and retention of first responders being at an all-time low; rising costs making it harder to keep departments afloat with insurance, gas and providing competitive wages; respect for first responders being low; high burnout rates due to low staff; the importance of fundraising efforts; and protecting first responders from cancer.
“When I graduated from the State Policy Academy at 22 years old, I had a great job helping people in their time of need and was respected by the public,” said Ronald Zona, chief of Westmoreland County Detective Bureau, retired from Pennsylvania State Police. “Over the years I served, many high-profile events occurred in our country that slowly eroded the trust and affection for our police officers. This has only gotten worse.”
“When I joined the fire department in 1998, there were approximately 45 members on the roster. Today, we have just 23,” said Cory Snyder, firefighter at Mount Pleasant Volunteer Fire Department. “This is a staggering loss for a small community that responds to about 550 calls a year, and I know we are not alone in this struggle.”
Held at the Westmoreland County Community College Public Safety Training Center in Smithton, the policy hearing’s testifiers included Zona and Snyder, as well as the following:
• Mike Stangroom, director of operations, Rostraver West Newton Emergency Services.
• John Christner, chief of police, Rostraver Township.
• Brian Sokol, president, Rostraver Central Fire Company.
• Donald Thoma, assistant chief, Hempfield Fire Department.
• John Storey, deputy fire chief, Hempfield Fire Department.
“We heard great testimony from people who truly understand what it takes to succeed as a first responder,” Davanzo said. “I am eager to take what we learned at this meeting back to Harrisburg and improve our emergency services for future generations.”
“Emergency responders are vital to protecting the health and safety of our communities, and we need to do our part as lawmakers to make sure we are supporting them in their mission,” said Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron/McKean/Potter), chairman of the committee. “I appreciate everyone who took the time to talk with the committee today, and we remain committed to advancing policies that will address the challenges they face.”
The full hearing is available to view at PAGOPPolicy.com
Representative Eric Davanzo
58th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Michelle Swab