The Senate today (April 28) approved creation of a pilot program to train high school students interested in firefighting and help alleviate the pressing need for volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania, according to Senator Dan Laughlin.
According to the bipartisan SR 6 report on the serious problems facing volunteer fire companies, Pennsylvania is experiencing a severe shortage of volunteer firefighters. The current number of volunteers is down to less than 15 percent of the number in the 1970s.
Senate Bill 83 creates a pilot program for Pennsylvania community colleges and universities to give interested high school students training in firefighting. The legislation would award three grants of $150,000 each in the eastern, central and western parts of the state to establish fire training programs for students.
The goal of the pilot program is to demonstrate that students receiving training will show an interest in becoming the next generation of firefighters. The bill requires a follow-up study to determine if the program increased the number of volunteer firefighters. Senate Bill 83 was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Recognizing that volunteer fire companies across Pennsylvania are wrestling with staffing issues, Senator Laughlin believes firefighter training for state prison inmates can fill that community need and give individuals valuable skills that can help them reintegrate into society.
That led Senator Laughlin to suggest to the state Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel that the vocational education options for inmates in state correctional institutions be expanded to include firefighter training.
“A cost-effective way to address community volunteer department staffing and training issues would be to train individuals serving sentences in our state prisons,” said Senator Laughlin. “The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections already provides several vocational training programs to provide prisoners with marketable job skills so they are more employable upon release. I want to stress that under my proposal this training would only be available for non-violent offenders and there would be no obligation for any fire department to take on a course graduate. That said, I have no doubt that most volunteer companies would more than welcome these newly minted firefighters into their ranks and that would benefit us all.”
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