By Rep. Torren Ecker (R-Adams/Cumberland)
Pennsylvania’s junior firefighter program received a much-needed update when the governor signed House Bill 1552, my first piece of legislation to be signed into law.
To put it simply, the law removes a requirement that junior firefighters take Department of Conservation and Natural Resources training on how to battle wildfires. The landscape of Pennsylvania has changed since this training regulation was first implemented. Rural areas are now more suburban, or even urban, and fire departments in those coverage areas see few or no wildfires. I worked with the state fire commissioner and other stakeholders on this legislation to remove barriers for young folks to get involved in the fire service.
Rest assured, departments in more rural areas where wildfires are more likely to occur can still make wildfire training a requirement for junior firefighters. This law gives departments more freedom to train the firefighters based on their individual community’s needs instead of a statewide blanket requirement.
I believe this modernization of junior firefighter requirements will help spur on participation with volunteer firefighting, which is desperately needed as the number of volunteers continues to decline. In the 1970s, there were nearly 300,000 Pennsylvanians who volunteered at their neighborhood firehouse. Today, we are down to roughly 37,000.
The future of firefighting is with the next generation, and I believe this new law will help entice them to aid their communities.
In that regard, I am currently working on another initiative to help our firefighting community while also preparing students for life after high school. I have been working with state officials in the fire commissioner’s office and the Department of Education, as well as advocacy groups and stakeholders to allow junior firefighters who are ages 16 and 17 to take the next step in training to be certified firefighters, commonly known as Firefighter 1 certification.
My proposed legislation would help teenagers who want to be career firefighters by allowing them to have the needed certifications before they even graduate from high school. It also helps our volunteer departments have young firefighters ready to be full fledge firefighters when they turn 18, as opposed to waiting for them to go through the certification training in their late teens or early 20s. Finally, the legislation would match many of our bordering states, such as Maryland, which already allows for the Firefighter 1 certification to be taken prior to turning 18. For years, the House has been working to improve career and technical education in our schools to help prepare students for the workforce and this initiative is an extension of that.
Safeguards would still be in place to protect young firefighters. Although they would be allowed to participate in advanced firefighter training, under state and federal laws, junior firefighters would not be allowed fight interior fires outside of their training until they reach the age of 18.
Emergency services is one of the most vital aspects of a community. It ensures the protection of all residents and their properties. The recently signed law and my new initiative further aids those who protect us by making sure the next generation is ready and properly trained to respond to our calls for help.
Representative Torren Ecker
193rd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Greg Gross