Bond would support fire, emergency volunteers

November 04, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

Waynesboro Fire Chief Dale Fishack and some of his firefighters met with members of the Waynesboro Borough Council last week to talk about how the department was going to raise from $850,000 to $1 million for a new ladder truck.

"That's why this referendum is of real interest to me," Fishack said of the ballot question that asks voters Tuesday to support a $100 million bond issue aimed at improving volunteer fire and emergency services.

The yes or no vote on the ballot reads: "Do you favor the incurring of indebtedness of up to $100,000,000 for the purpose of establishing a program that utilizes capital and other related methods to enhance and improve the delivery of volunteer emergency services in this Commonwealth as hereafter authorized by the Statute?"


The bond issue was included in the tax code bill that was passed as part of the budget in June. It directs the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to seek funding sources to repay the bond issue, the proceeds of which would be shared by the state's 2,400 volunteer fire departments.

A flier put out by legislators promoting the bond issue said the departments are "volunteer organizations that rely on donation and fund-raising activities to meet their equipment, training and building needs, all of which are becoming more burdensome.

"While some larger communities are able to provide financial assistance to volunteer fire and ambulance companies through special taxes, fees or grants, many simply cannot afford to. As a result, many volunteer emergency services organizations are struggling financially and no number of chicken barbecues, pancake breakfasts or bingo nights can supply all of the funding they require."

An average-priced fire pumper costs more than $450,000, Fishack said. If the bond issue passes, volunteers will spend more time on training than on fund-raising, he said.

State Rep. Jeff Coy, D-Shippensburg, the prime sponsor of the bond issue, said it is especially needed after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Bond issue money will go to training first, Coy said.

"That's the biggest thing. Volunteers are our first line of defense," Coy said. "They're going to need more training to defend against whatever they have to, and it's hard to tell what they might come up against anymore."

Coy said he has been lobbying hard to drum up voter support for the bond issue. He paid for a television commercial in his district to promote it, he said.

He said he is also filing a bill that would set up a board to develop programs should the bond issue pass.

"Fire departments will have to apply for the money and show a need," he said.

The bond issue would be repaid over 20 years.

Rep. Pat Fleagle, R- Waynesboro, said the demands being put on volunteer fire and ambulance companies to fund their own equipment is far beyond what they can bear.

"There's no way bingo and cake sales can do it," Fleagle said. "Their time would be better served in training.

"We've had all this hoopla about how these volunteer firefighters are heroes. Now it's time to put our money where our mouths are," Fleagle said. "The bond issue will be a good start."

Donald Eshelman, president of Rescue Hose No. 1 in Greencastle, Pa., said money from the bond issue would improve training, especially now that volunteers could face dangers from biological weapons.

Eshelman said some bond issue should be used for a fund for family members of volunteers killed in the line of duty.

He said he thinks the bond issue has a good chance of passing.

"There's been a lot of talk among residents about it," he said.

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