Feb 15, 2023

Our Emergency First Responders in Crisis

In a time when our first responders face constant scrutiny and ever-increasing funding concerns, the House Republican Policy Committee convened on February 15th to hear directly from those responsible for maintaining the health and safety of our communities. The Policy Committee desired to draw attention to the work our men and women in uniform do each and every day, as well as hear from them as to how their needs can be better met by the legislature.

The testifiers that joined the Policy Committee were as follows:

Our Police Panel:

David KennedyPresident, Pennsylvania State Trooper Association
Atah Akapo-MartinPA FOP Legislative Committee, Captain, Uniform Patrol Division, Harrisburg Bureau of Police
Larry Gerrity - PA FOP Legislative Chairman

Our EMS Panel:

Donald DeReamus - Legislative Committee Chair, Ambulance Association of Pennsylvania & QA Manager and Government Relations Liaison, Suburban EMS
Heather Sharar - Executive Director, Ambulance Association of Pennsylvania

Our Volunteer Firefighters Panel:

Steve Rabine - Volunteer Firefighter, Chief, United Hook & Ladder, New Oxford PA

Agenda – Bios – Testimony
Our Police Panel

The hearing began with a moment of silence for two Pennsylvania police officers who passed in the line of duty early this year. Brackenridge Police Chief Justin McIntire and McKeesport Police Officer Sean Sluganski made the ultimate sacrifice, are heroes to the Commonwealth, and their sacrifice was not in vain. The Policy Committee, PA Government as a whole, and the people of this state must acknowledge the risk our first responders face every day, and do whatever we can to enable them to perform their duties safely and return home to their families.

Following the moment of silence and reflection David Kennedy, President of Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, began his testimony. The obstacles faced by PA State Troopers are familiar to law enforcement across the country, as recruitment and retention numbers are not enough to meet the needs of our communities. There has been an inverse correlation seen between population growth and the ratio of officers to residents, which results in today’s police being responsible to serve an ever-increasing number of people with decreased resources. Though 100% staffing is difficult for any entity, operating below authorized staffing levels has led to lowered officer morale and job satisfaction. This phenomenon has been apparent for many years now, but became even more apparent following the combined nationwide riots of 2020 and the COVID pandemic.

Decreased morale, efforts to defund and defame our police, and an aging workforce have encouraged an exodus from policing deemed “The Great Resignation”. The resignation rate in 2020-21 increased by 18%, and retirements rose by 45% according to the Police Executive Research Forum. This Great Resignation is so dire for Pennsylvania that the PA Attorney General has initiated a program that pays police officers to stay on the force as the State cannot afford to continue to lose more of our first responders.

When we reflect on the recent past, the current situation our police face is even more acute. When Trooper Kennedy signed up for the position in 1995 he competed with 10,000 other applicants to become a State Trooper. Last year, in 2021, the Pennsylvania State Police had only 1,000 applicants. While recruitment is falling dramatically, local municipal police departments are ceasing operations, which leaves the State Troopers tasked with an even greater jurisdiction. At this time PA State Troopers are responsible for 85% of Pennsylvania’s landmass, with that percentage expected to grow. These figures are not indicative of a disaster in-the-making, but are reflective of an ongoing public safety catastrophe for our people and communities.

“This isn’t a crisis. This is a full-scale catastrophe. We simply don’t have enough officers to protect the citizens of this Commonwealth.”
David Kennedy, President, Pennsylvania State Trooper Association

Following the perspective of our State Troopers the Committee was joined by Larry Gerrity, Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Legislative Chairman, and Atah Akakpo-Martin, Captain within the Harrisburg Bureau of Police, to jointly testify on challenges facing our law enforcement. The comments and concerns shared by our local police and the FOP mirrored those shared by the State Troopers, namely that we are simultaneously struggling to encourage young people to join the force and retain our current officers. This is a dangerous combination of issues which speak to the state of our culture and threatens the safety of all Pennsylvanians.

To put the danger into perspective, the National Bureau of Economic Research studied the relationship between the number of police officers in a department compared to the rate of violent crime within a community. The study determined that for each additional officer added to a police department approximately 0.1 homicides in their communities were prevented each year. This number is doubled to 0.2 homicide reductions when considering Black victims of violent crime. In other words, for every 100 police officers added to our local police departments 10 homicide victims will be saved each year (or 20 in predominantly Black communities). More police simply means more lives saved, and fewer police means more lives lost.

What can be done to stem the crisis facing our law enforcement? Officer Gerrity and Captain Akakpo-Martin provided six points that must be simultaneously addressed by the Legislature to empower our police.

  •   Words matter. Legislators in Harrisburg must publicly recognize the value of policing and ensure that officers in the field know that their sacrifice is valued and that their elected officials support the work they do.
  •   Actions matter more. The General Assembly, through legislation, must ensure PA police are afforded fair pay and benefits as compared to private sector employment opportunities and opportunities for officers in other states.
  •   Protect the collective bargaining rights for all public safety personnel.
  •   Enhance existing pay and benefits to assist with recruiting and retention. These enhancements could be educational incentives, student loan assistance, family leave, mandatory stress leave, as well as retention and recruiting bonuses.
  •   Provide recruiting tools for PA departments specifically designed to retain officers in PA as well as recruiting officers from neighboring states. An incentive for an officer to move to PA would be the ability to provide pension portability like what is seen in SB669 of the 2021-22 session.
  •   Protect officer’s privacy and reputation. Officers should not be worried that they will be “doxed” for every simple encounter, and their families do not need the anxiety and stress of being put in the public limelight before rumors and misconceptions can be addressed. District Attorneys and the media, in their commentary, should value the officers doing their job above the criminal elements of our society.

A message needs to be sent by the legislature, and all Pennsylvanians, that we value and support our police. With fledgling public support and outright animosity expressed by Democrat lawmakers, recruitment and retention will continue to plumet. The threats posed to our people are real and growing, and can be measured in lives lost and shuttered communities. Our civil society, and the benefits we all enjoy through our foundation of law and order, cannot be retained without the risk and sacrifice our police make on our behalf.

“Common sense tells us that recruiting, training, and retaining a capable police department is critical for the wellbeing of any community.”
Larry Gerrity, PA FOP Legislative Chairman
Atah Akakpo-Martin, PA FOP Legislative Chairman

WATCH: Our Police Q&A 

Our EMS Panel

Our Emergency Medical Services (EMS) first responders are often the determiner between life and death when tragedy strikes. To best perform their duties, and to save lives, our EMS providers need to have ample resources, well-staffed facilities, and fair compensation for their heroism. If a medical emergency occurs our EMS, by law, must respond even when they know they will not be compensated in full for their efforts. They, like our other first responders, are facing tremendous obstacles that urgently need addressed.

To speak on behalf of our EMS providers the Policy Committee heard from Donald DeReamus, Board Member and Legislative Chair of the Ambulance Association of Pennsylvania (AAP), as well as Heather Sharar, Executive Director of AAP. The Ambulance Association of Pennsylvania advocates on behalf of emergency and non-emergency ambulance and transportation providers, and is dedicated to encouraging sound business practices, encouraging important legislation, regulations, further education, and addressing reimbursement issues.

To put it bluntly, the EMS system in Pennsylvania is broken. Both through financial hardship and struggles to adequately staff and maintain existing providers, our EMS first responders are in dire need. The major issues facing Pennsylvania EMS can be broken into three interconnected issues.

  1.   Funding – There is no year-to-year sustainable funding mechanism to support the delivery of EMS or cover the cost of readiness.
  2.   Workforce – EMS has an annual turnover rate of 30%. There is a severe shortage of providers in PA, and nationally.
  3.   Reimbursement – Cost to provide service are substantially more than the reimbursement paid, especially when transporting a government-insured patient, which results in a financial deficit on every response.

The hardships facing PA EMS providers does not impact the entire Commonwealth equally. Lack of proper funding, workforce, and limited mutual assistance between neighboring EMS providers particularly impacts rural Pennsylvania. With less staff and resources, and a greater area to travel, response times in rural PA pose grave risks to those in need outside of major metropolitan areas.

It should be known that EMS, and the work they perform wherever an incident may occur, helps to free up our doctors, nurses, and hospital beds for others in need. An ambulance is essentially a traveling hospital with trained staff that can take an injury or illness and provide treatment before further problems or needs arise. Their proactive response saves money and resources to then be utilized by others in need. EMS responds to an emergency with NO GAURANTEE that their efforts will be compensated in full, yet they selflessly heed the call.

“Any failure in the System directly impacts morbidity and mortality. The gravity of the issues facing our state’s EMS System is momentous.”
Donald DeReamus, Legislative Committee Chair, Ambulance Association of Pennsylvania & QA Manager and Government Relations Liaison, Suburban EMS
Heather Sharar, Executive Director, Ambulance Association of Pennsylvania


Our Volunteer Firefighters Panel

To conclude the day’s hearing on “Our Emergency 1st Responders in Crisis” the Policy Committee was joined by Steve Rabine, Volunteer firefighter and Chief of United Hook & Ladder in New Oxford, PA. Our volunteer firefighters selflessly take time out of their lives to be ready at a moment’s notice to save our lives and possessions. Chief Rabine shared his perspective on the issues facing volunteer fire services in PA, and unsurprisingly our firefighters share many of the same obstacles as our previous testifiers.

Chief Rabine named three key issues that must be addressed to assist in retaining our volunteer firefighters and fire stations. The issues are funding, recruitment & retention, and insurance concerns.

  1.   Funding - As with everything else, inflation has caused the price of necessary apparatus and equipment to skyrocket over the last 3 years. Fundraising efforts are not sustainable.
  2.   Recruiting & Retention - Incentives to bring-on new volunteers are too low, and means to retain existing volunteers are lacking.
  3.   Insurance - Costs for volunteer departments have greatly increased, and there are now a limited number of insurance carriers following COVID and concerns with firefighting related cancers.

To ease the burden faced by individual volunteer fire services our local volunteer firefighters have seen success in conjoining departments into regions and encouraging mutual assistance and response. This effort has enabled for cost sharing, decreased response times, unified training, a stronger workforce, and decreases the need for frequent fundraising. The current need for fundraising, which is often in the form of a dinner at the fire hall or a bingo night, is not appealing to new recruits who want to focus on saving lives and fighting fires. These fundraisers are necessary though, because even when local governments are instructed to provide for fire protection the means to fund this protection are not clear within the law.

Attracting new recruits is a top priority, and volunteer fire departments offer whatever incentives they can to encourage selfless and capable people to apply. Some departments even offer free in-station housing through “live-in” programs. Under such a program a volunteer’s housing and utilities are covered as they live within the fire station itself, but it is expected that when the need arises they are able to respond 24/7. Training for new recruits is supplied, as well as all of the necessary gear they may need to save lives. A prospective volunteer firefighter does not pursue their work for money or acclaim, but rather to save lives and contribute immensely to their communities.

“Funding starts at the local level. Our state Act requires local governments to be responsible for fire protection, and funding, but it doesn’t spell out HOW.”
Steve Rabine, Volunteer Firefighter, Chief, United Hook & Ladder, New Oxford PA 

The day’s testifiers, our first responders, shared many overlapping concerns that impact their work and our lives. We, at any given time, may need their support. They, at all times, are prepared to assist us but need our support as well to perform their duties. To ensure the continued safety of our communities we must utilize the insight provided during the day’s testimony to remove the obstacles impeding our first responders from doing what they do best, saving lives and keeping our communities safe. Without safe streets, emergency responders, and volunteers willing to answer the call our Commonwealth will be unable to grow and prosper. Chairman Kail concluded the day’s hearing by stating, “We can talk about all kinds of different things such as education, jobs, energy – they are all critical to this Commonwealth – but if we don’t have the safety provided by our Police Forces, EMS, and Firefighters it is hard to really care about much else. So, we really appreciate what our first responders do, we support your work, and we are looking to find solutions to your problems as this session goes on.”