The Senate today (June 30) passed legislation that will fundamentally restructure and improve the Office of the State Fire Commissioner, according to Senators Scott Hutchinson (R-21) and Mike Regan (R-31).
Senate Bill 987, introduced by Senator Hutchinson, is one of 27 recommendations made by the SR 6 Commission, a 39-member panel that was comprised of fire and EMS leaders from throughout the Commonwealth.
Under the bill, the State Fire Commissioner would become a member of the Cabinet and report directly to the Governor. As such, the Fire Commissioner will be a high profile advocate for fire and EMS services and among other duties, his office will be charged with assisting departments with their volunteer and employee recruitment efforts.
“Fire companies throughout Pennsylvania are facing significant operational challenges ranging from funding shortages to difficulty finding employees and volunteers,” said Senator Hutchinson. “The passage of this measure will help those dedicated first responders serving in our communities by elevating the status of the State Fire Commissioner and streamlining its operations. Another important component of the bill is the establishment of a statewide Fire Safety Advisory Board that will meet regularly to proactively advise the Commissioner on issues concerning fire safety.”
The Fire Safety Advisory Board would be comprised of volunteer and professional firefighters representing specific regions from throughout the state. It will also include non-voting members representing the General Assembly as well as several organizations representing counties, municipalities and first responders. The panel will be empowered to review and make recommendations on innovative programming and legislation and assist municipalities in developing standards of response coverage.
“The SR 6 Fire and EMS Commission examined the State Fire Commissioner’s position, the operations of the Office, as well as what is done in other states,” said Senator Regan, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee. “As a result, this measure would enhance the State Fire Commissioner’s position by having him or her report directly to the Governor instead of the Lt. Governor; ensuring that future State Fire Commissioners are held to Senate confirmation like other top positions; and providing for a broad-based advisory board to examine relevant issues that affect the Commonwealth’s 1,800 fire departments.”
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.