Avoiding extinction: Become an advocate for fire and EMS funding

Connect with local officials and urge them to review funding program options to assist fire and EMS agencies

Last summer I took an educational methodology class. The instructor opened the class by asking the following question, “Why aren’t there dinosaurs roaming the earth today?”

He received the typical responses: a meteor hit the earth, there was a great ice age, and other, similar answers. His reply: “No, the reason there aren’t dinosaurs today is because they didn’t adapt. If they had adapted to change, they would still be here today.” He concluded his point with this: “If the volunteer fire service doesn’t learn to adapt to today’s changes, it won’t be here for long either.”

COVID-19 and the need to adapt

Act today to ensure your continued existence. Don’t become a dinosaur.
Act today to ensure your continued existence. Don’t become a dinosaur. (Photo/Getty Images)

Probably 20 times a day, I hear someone mention the “new normal” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I think it is time to stop using that phrase. We have been dealing with this pandemic for four to six months now, and by anyone’s standard, I do not think you consider that “new.” It’s just normal.

I have started to call it my hybrid life. After all, a hybrid is defined as anything derived from heterogeneous sources or composed of elements of different or incongruous kinds. That is life today – there are parts of it that are just like it was a year ago, and then every day, there is something new.

Think about it: Six months ago, Zoom was a sound a child made when they played cars and trucks. Today, like the rest of you, I now Zoom on a regular basis. I have adapted because I don’t see life without Zoom until there is something better, faster and easier.

The fire and EMS funding problem

For the past decade, the fire and EMS service has faced funding issues. Today’s pandemic has exacerbated those problems.

Volunteer departments depend on fundraising activities for approximately 70% of their annual revenue. That revenue has dried up because of the pandemic. Departments have not been able to have dinners, raffles, festivals or other money-generating activities.

At the same time, departments that receive all or a portion of their annual revenue from municipal taxes have taken a hit because tax collections nationwide are running behind normal pace.

Adapt and create new revenue sources

The CARES Act, passed by Congress in March, established the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund.

The Treasury Department has made payments from the Fund to states and eligible units of local government, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories and tribal governments. In Pennsylvania, several local departments, working through the Pennsylvania Fire & Emergency Services Institute, appealed to the state legislature to provide financial assistance to departments that were facing drastic cuts in funding.

The legislature responded by passing Act 26, which uses CARES funds and other state revenue to make grants of up to $15,000 available to fire and EMS organizations in our state. The purpose of this grant is to provide some much-needed financial assistance to first responders who have found it difficult to keep their operations running due to COVID-19. As directed by Act 26, the money must be used for operational and equipment expenses.

In addition, CARES money has also been allocated to every county in the nation through their state government. I have been in touch with my county commissioners and have urged them to copy the program that our state has adopted to financially assist fire and EMS agencies.

You can easily replicate what we have accomplished

If you haven’t already spoken with your state and local government officials, then you need to do so immediately.

Unfortunately, the fire and EMS service always assumes that elected officials know what is happening with their agencies. This isn’t always the case. You need to work through your state and county fire and EMS organizations and schedule meetings with your elected officials. You need to do your homework and present them with clear facts and numbers that show what has happened to your revenue because of the pandemic. Also, you need to project what will happen if this trend continues for the rest of 2020.

Very seldom do we get to create our own funding programs. This is that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Act today to ensure your continued existence. Don’t become a dinosaur.

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