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$55.1 million is headed to help Pa. volunteer firefighters. What will Centre County get?

Howard Fire Company firefighter Tyler Penland pulls a piece of debris away from a corn crib full of hay that completely burned on Shay Lane in Marion Township on Saturday, April 16, 2016.
Howard Fire Company firefighter Tyler Penland pulls a piece of debris away from a corn crib full of hay that completely burned on Shay Lane in Marion Township on Saturday, April 16, 2016. Centre Daily Times, file

Volunteer firefighters’ relief associations in Centre County are set to receive nearly $850,000 in aid from the state auditor general’s office.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced Tuesday that he released $55.1 million to help volunteer firefighters’ relief associations across the state.

“This money is vital in helping volunteer firefighters who save lives and protect property,” DePasquale said in a press release. “These funds will benefit communities statewide by helping to purchase life-saving equipment, fund critical training and provide insurance for thousands of volunteer firefighters and emergency service providers.”

As funding for volunteer fire companies has dwindled, costs have risen. One set of fire gear can run a company about $3,000, pagers are about $350 each and air packs cost around $6,000, according to one fire chief’s estimate.

Each volunteer fire company can elect to have a relief association, said John Rougeux, the president of the Howard Fire Company Volunteer Firefighter Relief Association.

The relief association must provide training and “health and safety types of equipment” to the firefighters, he said. Money for the relief association cannot be used by the fire company for anything specifically associated with the company.

The volunteer firefighters’ relief association funding comes from a 2 percent state tax on fire insurance premiums purchased by Pennsylvania residents from out-of-state casualty insurance companies, according to the auditor general’s office.

In the case of Howard Fire Company, its relief association funds come from the taxes assessed on houses in Howard Borough and Howard, Curtin and Marion townships, said Rougeux.

But any Centre County fire company that has a volunteer firefighters’ relief association will receive some state aid.

Across the state, 2,518 municipalities received $55.1 million in fire relief association funding that will be distributed to volunteer firefighters’ relief associations.

Mark Ott, president of the Howard Fire Company, said he hadn’t heard about the state aid yet, but, “I’m hoping we would benefit.”

For eight years, Howard Fire Company has run the annual Punkin’ Chunkin’ Festival, an event that brings in about 25 percent of the company’s total budget. When the festival was canceled in 2016 due to flooding, the fire company had to turn to the community for help to make up the funds it would have earned.

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