Should Pa. volunteer fire departments be reimbursed for services?

Written by Rachel McDevitt/Radio Pennsylvania | Dec 16, 2015 4:58 AM

Photo by AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)

(Harrisburg) -- State lawmakers are considering a proposal to allow volunteer first responders to charge for their services.

The measure would allow volunteer fire companies to basically recoup their losses.

Don Konkle, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute, says he thinks billing should be a local option.

"Often times, if you look at a municipal contribution that would exempt somebody from being involved in the billing, it doesn't even cover the cost of keeping the doors of the fire department open," he says. "So when you have a serious car accident (or) a large fire, something like that, it's an extraordinary cost that the fire department sees."

Under the legislation, when they respond to an emergency and must use equipment -- such as air tanks, flares or fuel -- volunteer firefighters would be allowed to send a bill to the person involved in the emergency for what's called "reasonable costs."

They could not bill for manpower or labor.

Tim Shatto, who is chief of the West Hanover Township Volunteer Fire Company in Dauphin County, says local departments that have already established billing rates would be the most useful when determining future billing rates in new municipalities.

"We believe they should be fair, reasonable and equitable," he says. "We don't believe the volunteer fire company should be making a profit per se, but we do feel that we should be reimbursed for those expenses."

Republican Representative Mike Tobash of Schuylkill County says he's concerned the bill may cause people who are not at fault to pay for emergency services.

"In this legislation, it appears that you are causing someone to be liable," he says. "It says it, that 'You shall be liable,' if you're involved in an emergency that necessitates official dispatch."

Firefighters have told lawmakers they have a hard time recruiting new volunteers, because the majority of the job now is fundraising for equipment.

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