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County backs plan as possible EMS solution

County officials have thrown their support behind a bill in the General Assembly that would offer more tools to address emergency medical services 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….”

It’s SB 698.

The commissioners and the Warren County Intergovernmental Co-Op have penned a letter to Sen. Patrick Stefano, chair of the Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee, advocating for the legislation.

The current bill has been before that committee since May.

“Warren County is a rural area, and, as with other similar regions, Basic Life Support (BLS) Emergency Medical Services (EMS) are fire-based, and most of that is volunteer,” the local officials write. “The BLS system is failing for many reasons, perhaps chief among them, the shortage of trained volunteers and disparate call volume. Of course, fire/rescue and EMS are vital services that we are compelled to support. That said, we lack the tools necessary to effectively and efficiently support EMS.”

Signed by Commissioner Ben Kafferlin and Dan Glotz as chair of the commissioners and council of governments, respectively, they express the view that local government should be given the latitude to solve EMS challenges.

“Unfortunately, for our municipalities,” they write, “the complexity of the current crisis obstructs their ability to dedicate the time and resources to solve the issue. Furthermore, even our largest municipalities do not have the economies of scale necessary to sustain emergency services.”

“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 in the memo, suggesting that authorities are permitted in the Commonwealth for sewers and swimming pools but not fire and EMS.

“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.

Kafferlin and Glotz indicate that it isn’t unclear whether the county would utilize the option but want to have the ability to do so.

“Over the last few years, the Commissioners have convened an EMS Task Force to explore options for shoring up the EMS crisis,” they write. “Furthermore, we have hired consultants to help us determine what Warren County could do to save our EMS system.

“In all cases, a chief recommendation has been a countywide battalion model for EMS. It would also serve as a possible safety-net for both fire/rescue, and local police, should those emergency services begin to waver. Therefore, allowing counties to be able to create public safety authorities in these trying times would be a helpful way to support Counties (to) serve their constituents.”

It’s been a piece of legislation on the radar of the COG Fire Services Committee for some time.

“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, at the March COG Fire Services Committee meeting.

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

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.

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