Report Sheds Light on Firefighter Recruitment Trends

A lot has changed in the past 11-years, but roughly the same number of Pennsylvania firefighters is responding to calls in 2012 as in 2001.  “In 2001 there were 18.2… and in 2012 it was 16.8, about 17, so a change in only one person.  Statistically speaking, that’s not significant,” explains Jonathan Johnson, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. 

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute surveyed fire chiefs statewide in both 2001 and 2012, and they’ve been able to identify trends in recruitment and retention.  Johnson calls it a mixed bag

“On the whole it looks like fire companies are able to recruit members and retain members, but there are companies that are clearly struggling.” 

36% of Pennsylvania fire companies showed a net loss in members in 2012, and Johnson says the majority of them serve populations of 5,000 or less. 

Also, Pennsylvania firefighters are aging.  “How to address that is going to be a real struggle,” Johnson says.  “There’s no one size fits all kind of prescription.”  35% of Pennsylvania firefighters are now over 40-years-old. 

This new report is being delivered to policymakers in Harrisburg, and Johnson hopes it will begin a dialog on fire companies’ needs.  He tells us that a follow-up study will examine fire companies’ fundraising and budget issues.


New Law Protects PA Firefighters

Governor Tom Corbett’s signature on HB 797 ends firefighters’ 25-year battle.  President of the Pennsylvania Professional Fire Fighters Association, Art Martynuska, is ecstatic.  “Our men and women across the state – both career and volunteer – risk their lives on a daily basis, protecting the residents of Pennsylvania,” Martynuska tells us. 

The new law designates cancer as an occupational disease for firefighters in Pennsylvania.  For some types of cancer, Martynuska says, firefighters are at a 100% greater risk than members of the general public.

Previously, the onus was on the firefighter to prove that the cancer was caused by the cumulative effects of the job.  Now, the presumption is flipped.  But, Martynuska says the municipalities which pay for the workers compensation can still rebut: “Lifestyle things, heredity things, certain things of that nature would give [them options] to say no, it wasn’t a result of your exposure to products of combustion or hazardous materials.” 

Firefighters would have to meet certain conditions too.  For instance, they must have served at least four years of continuous firefighting duty, and they must have a prior cancer-free physical exam. 

A similar bill was vetoed by Governor Ed Rendell in 2010, but Martynuska says they’ve since sat down with the municipal groups who were expressing concerns with the bill.  HB 797 passed both chambers of the legislature with near unanimous support, and it takes effect immediately.  In all, Governor Tom Corbett signed 46 bills into law on Thursday.