Northeastern Pennsylvania State Senate Lisa Baker (R-20) successfully led the Senate’s effort to help volunteer fire companies buy desperately needed equipment through state-sponsored low-interest loans.
The bill to increase the loan limits on the Volunteer Loan Assistance Program (VLAP) passed the Senate 49-0 and now heads to the governor’s desk for signature.
“Fire companies throughout the state are losing volunteers at an alarming rate,” Baker said. “This decline is often linked to the amount of time our first responders must spend at chicken barbecues, bingo games and other fundraisers. The VLAP program eases the fundraising burden on our volunteers, helps to attract and retain firefighters, and ultimately aids in protecting and saving the victims of fire, motor vehicle accidents, and other life-and-death emergencies.”
House Bill 1706 doubles the amount of money fire companies are permitted to borrow for equipment and apparatus under the loan program. Loan limits have not changed in more than 40 years, although the price of equipment has increased fivefold in many cases.
“In the world of public safety, a shortage of money, volunteers, training and equipment can have deadly consequences,” Baker told her Senate colleagues. “By passing this bill, we can tackle the shortage of all of these essential elements and ultimately keep firefighters trained, equipped and on call, ready to save property and lives.”
Baker stressed that no additional tax dollars are needed for the bill, which comes from a self-sustaining revolving loan fund. The default rate on the fund stands at zero. She also noted that if volunteer firefighters did not provide their services, taxpayers would be left top pick up the tab, in the amount of $6 billion.
The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, which Sen. Baker chairs, joined the Senate Majority Policy Committee in hosting a hearing on The Challenges of Firefighting Today, which focused on recruitment, retention and training challenges at an Oct. 25 hearing in Gettysburg. The loan legislation was identified as a chief priority by firefighters across the state.
Baker's 20th Senatorial District now will include the following Part of LUZERNE County consisting of the TOWNSHIPS of Conyngham, Dallas, Dennison, Dorrance, Exeter, Franklin, Hollenback, Hunlock, Jackson, Kingston, Lake, Lehman, Rice, Ross, Slocum, Union and Wright and the BOROUGHS of Courtdale, Dallas, Forty Fort, Harveys Lake, Kingston, Nuangola, Penn Lake Park, Pringle and Shickshinny; All of PIKE County; Part of SUSQUEHANNA County consisting of the TOWNSHIPS of Ararat, Auburn, Brooklyn, Clifford, Gibson, Great Bend, Harford, Harmony, Herrick, Jackson, Lathrop, Lenox, New Milford, Oakland, Springville and Thompson and the BOROUGHS of Forest City, Great Bend, Hallstead, Hop Bottom, Lanesboro, New Milford, Oakland, Susquehanna Depot, Thompson and Uniondale; All of WAYNE County and All of WYOMING County.