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How many of you were unwrapping Christmas gifts with the possibility of being called away from your family lurking in the back of your mind? Who among us was eating pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day, knowing dinner could be cut short at any moment? Such is the life of an emergency responder.

We fail to say thank you often enough to the men and women who serve as volunteer fire fighters and ambulance crew members. We all hear the sirens when they go off, but that sound means something very different to them. They don’t do it for the glory, but rather to satisfy their desire to help others in need.

In 1977, there were 300,000 volunteer firefighters. Today, the number is closer to 50,000. Two years ago, former State Fire Commissioner Edward Mann told a House committee, “Sooner or later, somebody’s going to dial 911 and the 911 center is going to dispatch a fire department and nobody’s going to show up.” His words should send a chill through every one of us.

Search the Internet for stories on the subject of volunteer shortages and you will receive a long list of articles dealing with potential causes. Some people believe we have too many service providers and should emphasize consolidation. Others think the training requirements are too lengthy.

There is one thing that can be done now to address the problem. Within the last month, you should have received a mailing from your local volunteer fire company and/or ambulance service, asking for your support. Hopefully you did not automatically throw away that piece of mail.

It won’t be long before you see signs promoting the local chicken barbecue. Emergency responders don’t host these events because they enjoy cooking for hundreds of people on a Saturday morning and afternoon. They also aren’t doing it to raise money for personnel costs.

How much money do they need to raise? Equipment isn’t cheap. A new fire engine costs between $500,000 and $750,000. The price tag on a new ladder truck is more than $1 million. Add to that the cost of maintaining these units.

On a broader scale, approximately $6 billion would be needed in firefighting costs alone if every municipality in Pennsylvania had to pay what they now receive on a volunteer basis. That’s a lot of chicken.

It should come as no surprise that municipalities around the state are considering implementing a fire tax. In York County, a number of townships and boroughs have already done so, as a way to help volunteer fire companies to continue to operate.

I’m sure your local emergency service provider would appreciate any form of support you can give them. They are there when you need them. Right now, they need you.

— State Rep. Kristen Phillips-Hill, R-Jacobus, is a Republican representing the 93rd District.

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