Volunteer firefighters are disappearing in Pennsylvania.
The NBC10 Investigators found there are 50,000 left across the commonwealth. The State Fire Marshall’s office confirms that figure is down from 300,000 twenty years ago.
Firefighters in towns all over the state say it’s affecting their safety and could affect their ability to fight fires and save lives.
According to State Fire Commissioner Tim Solobay, 90 percent of all firefighters are volunteers.
While there is no state requirement for volunteer firefighter training, most volunteer fire companies require new recruits to complete 180 hours of training before assisting with a fire. The volunteers pay for this training themselves.
Fire companies across Southeastern Pennsylvania say the danger, cost and time involved in becoming a volunteer firefighter makes the work less attractive to young recruits.
“It means sometimes when the whistle blows, or tones drop or call goes out for help it may go unanswered,” Solobay said.
The NBC10 Investigators found seven states give volunteer firefighters tax breaks, including Delaware. In Pennsylvania, tax breaks for volunteer firefighters ended six years ago.
“Eventually, if we don’t address this issue, you’re going to pick up the phone they’re going to tell you you’re going to have to wait a half an hour for a crew to be out to fight a fire,” Pa. State Representative Steve Barrar said.
Barrar (R-160) is chairman of the House Emergency Services Committee.
“If you join the Pennsylvania national guard, Pennsylvania will pay for your college education.” He said. “Why shouldn’t we do the same thing for people who volunteer to be firefighters in our state?”
Barrar told the NBC10 Investigators he plans to introduce a volunteer firefighter education bill in 2015.
The state fire commissioner estimates it would cost $6 billion a year to replace volunteer fire services with paid fire service.
The firefighter education bill would be funded by increased taxes on fire work and car insurance sales, according to Barrar.