|By Rep. Julie Harhart (R-Lehigh/Northampton)When you wake up in the dead of night to the smell of smoke in the house, when you’re in a vehicle accident and are trapped in the car or when you’re in a flooded area and need rescuing, it’s our local firefighters who risk their safety to ensure yours.
As we prepare to recognize October as Fire Prevention Month in the United States, I thought this a great time to recap some of the measures we have put in place in Pennsylvania to help ensure our firefighters have access to the tools they need to do their jobs effectively and that they are adequately compensated should their health suffer from the duties they perform.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed legislation into law that designates cancer as an occupational disease for firefighters. This is for the purposes of allowing them to collect workers’ compensation if it is proven that they developed cancer as a result of their work as a firefighter. These men and women work so hard and they are constantly putting themselves in situations, especially if a factory or business is on fire, which can expose them to dangerous toxins. The least we can do for these brave and selfless community heroes is to make sure they can access appropriate compensation if such an ailment occurs.
In order to help our volunteer fire companies and emergency medical service companies afford to update their equipment, pay down debt and receive continuing training, we passed into law legislation to extend and expand the Volunteer Fire Company and Volunteer Ambulance Service Grant program. Under the new law, the program has been extended for another four years and funding has been increased from $25 million to $30 million annually. The grant money can be used for training, equipment, facility maintenance or repair, and debt reduction.With volunteer fire companies always looking to improve their ability to raise needed funds for equipment and facility upgrades and maintenance, we recently passed into law legislation known as the Small Games of Chance Act. This legislation improves the fundraising abilities of charitable organizations, such as fire companies, by increasing prize limits for small games of chance from $500 to $1,000 for daily drawings, from $5,000 to $30,000 for weekly drawings, and from $5,000 to $10,000 for raffles per calendar month. In addition, fire and emergency service organizations also will be permitted to hold a raffle with a $50,000 limit.
These measures were important to pass into law, not just for firefighters, but for the community at large. The safety of residents is enhanced when fire companies have the equipment and training needed to effectively address all area emergencies.