Fire and emergency medical services units across the region are planning how they will use their share of the $29 million in state grants announced by Gov. Tom Wolf and Acting Fire Commissioner Thomas. Cook.
Two Westmoreland County Volunteer Fire Departments will reap the benefits of 2021 consolidations – Hempfield Volunteer Fire Department Company 4 in Bovard, which in January 2021 merged with Luxor, and Youngstown Volunteer Fire Department, which merged with the Whitney Volunteer Fire Department in Unity – and are set to receive the county’s highest single scholarship of $30,000 each.
“As a volunteer fire department, any gifts or grants are always welcome. Under the state grant formula, consolidating or merging departments are entitled to the maximum department award for the two consolidating departments, $15,000 for each department per year, for five consecutive years,” said Youngstown Fire Chief Barry Banker.
“Our consolidation has been talked about a lot, but it was not formally implemented until last May. This is the first year that we have received the double grant award,” he said. “We can definitely use it. It is already designated to pay for existing materials and equipment.
Hempfield Fire Chief Anthony Kovacic hadn’t heard the announcement of the grants, but the township had expected the “double” reward windfall.
“We are absolutely delighted to receive him. It will certainly be put to good use,” he said.
Statewide, grants totaled $29 million distributed among 2,115 recipients in 67 counties. In Allegheny County, for example, 161 first responder units received grants ranging from approximately $7,792 to $25,000.
In Westmoreland County, grants totaling more than $1.3 million were announced for 94 fire companies, emergency medical services and special-response units, such as the Rough Terrain Support Unit Team 211 county based at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity.
The Rough Terrain Support Unit – with approximately 80 active members who respond to hard-to-reach places – received $15,000.
Special unit chief Mike Rosensteel, a Greensburg firefighter, said the unit likely couldn’t survive without state assistance.
“This money definitely keeps us going,” Rosensteel said.
The unit was formed in 1991 and first responded to wildfire calls. Today, members respond not only to hard-to-reach fires, but also to natural disasters, search and rescue calls, remote crime scenes, and physical recovery cases. It has teams of all-terrain vehicles, horses and search dogs.
“We responded to about 22 cases last year and also attended the air show and many other big events throughout the county,” Rosensteel said.
Bell Township Fire Chief Steve Master said firefighters were really “pleased” to hear they were receiving a $15,000 grant.
“With covid-19 we have had to cancel a lot of our fundraising activities so whatever we can get is really important. This year, with the costs of fish and butter, we’re canceling our annual fingerlings, so it’s going to hurt,” Master said.
Master said the department plans to use the money to replace its fire hoses, which are over a decade old.
In announcing the grants, Wolf and Cook noted that many first responder units have struggled with fundraising efforts throughout the pandemic, and the awards will alleviate some of those issues.
“We know that these organizations continue to experience negative impacts related to the covid-19 pandemic and some are experiencing financial difficulties. Grant programs like these are vital financial lifelines,” Wolf said.