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Panel explores EMS authorities, regional study

A piece of legislation that caught the eye of the COG (Council of Governments) Fire Services Committee would bring additional options to the table as officials respond to the ongoing fire and EMS crisis in the county.

The legislation, according to a co-sponsorship memo from Senators Lisa Baker and Timothy Kearney, would “simplify the process to regionalize fire and EMS services” by allowing “regional or county-wide service districts, or what are better known as authorities….”

“Many fire and EMS companies and communities know that regionalization provides an opportunity to provide better services in perpetuity, but struggle to find successful ways to get around the legal obstacles that our current statutory framework inadvertently creates,” the senators argue, suggesting that authorities are permitted in the Commonwealth for sewers and swimming pools but not fire and EMS.”

“It would give us structure to deal with public safety issues in a multi-municipal way, at a county level,” Alan Kugler, the COG’s consultant said.

Dave Basnak with EmergyCare described it as the ability to “create a government entity” that is “more public safety-centric.”

“Individual municipalities would be able to join or not join if they so choose, and rather than replacing our incredible volunteer and career fire and EMS companies, authorities would exist to support them and their work,” the memorandum states. In Pennsylvania, one size solutions do not fit all. An authority may not be necessary for every county or community, but our legislation would give companies, municipalities, and regions the choice to use this tool.

Kugler noted that Senator Scott Hutchinson is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

The measure didn’t get out of committee during the last legislative session,

Kugler suggested that it may be an issue the committee should discuss supporting publicly.

He likened the authority model to the results of a county-wide EMS Task Force report that called for an EMS cooperative.

“It seems to me that this is very close to that.”

Commissioner Ben Kafferlin added that the legislation is “legalizing what some areas are already doing.”

The committee agreed to invite Kearney’s policy director to the next meeting.

COUNTY TO ENGAGE IN REGIONAL EMS STUDY

The study would be in conjunction with Crawford and Erie counties.

Kafferlin raised it with the commissioners on Wednesday, he said, and the county is willing to move ahead.

“If it is going to be beneficial to one county,” Rich Barrett said, “it is going to be beneficial to all three.

Paul Pascuzzi said the three counties are “basically the same” from a fire and EMS perspective with a “mixture of pair and volunteer fire and EMS.”

He called that an “interesting mix” and said the study, along with the authority legislation, could provide officials with “some new tools.”

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