During a Progress Authority breakfast meeting this past summer, the Susquehanna County Commissioners announced that they had a $10,000 check for each of the fire and ambulance companies in the county. The funds are disbursed from Act 13 money that is collected from active gas pads throughout the state, then returned to the municipalities that are most impacted by drilling and natural gas activity.
Local first responders rely almost entirely on volunteers, donations, and fundraising to keep their companies operational. The state mandates the levels of training for EMTs and firefighters, and technical advances in communications and apparatus can quickly leave a struggling company in the dark ages. The annual disbursement of funds from impact fees, though never guaranteed, have relieved some of that burden.
“The Act 13 money is a gas tax coming directly from the gas companies to the state,” said Hop Bottom Hose Company fire chief Pete Mecca. “The Susquehanna County Commissioners chose to give it back to first responders. They were able to keep it here and give it back to us so we can put it back into education and equipment to better serve the community.”
“Being commissioners, we are responsible for public safety with our 911 center and EMA and the fire and ambulance departments they work with,” commissioner Alan Hall stated. “We always try to be a partner with all of these groups to try to make it more effective for them.”
“We are fortunate to have Act 13 money to put back into our county for emergency services,” commissioner Betsy Arnold concurred.
“By helping them, we are helping all the citizens of the county,” said Hall.
“We use it mainly for training and different tools to purchase that we didn’t have the money for before the gas companies were here,” Mecca related. Last year, the Hop Bottom company upgraded their brush fire unit with the addition of an all-terrain vehicle and skid loader. This year, the money will be used for the purchase of pagers and two-way radios for new members and specialized training for the company’s EMTs. “Five EMTs will be sent to New York state for a weekend-long tactical EMT task force training. We are getting into a lot more drug overdose calls and violent situations, so we need this.” This is the first year that the course is being offered, and Mecca is grateful to get in on the ground floor and help his personnel maintain their Continuing Education credits.
“Act 13 dollars have proven to be a critical resource for our volunteer firefighters, EMTs and first responders,” state Rep. Jonathan Fritz, who was also in attendance. “It’s an investment that goes toward protecting life, limb, and property. It doesn’t get any more important than that.”
“For more than a decade, we have been working diligently to help address the challenges first responders face in attracting and retaining volunteers, keeping current with training, and updating equipment and facilities,” said Sen. Lisa Baker, who helped craft the Act 13 bill in 2011. “All of the activity that has come with the emergence of the natural gas industry has increased areas and levels of responsibility for these essential services.”
“These agencies know too well how expensive it is to train, outfit and certify personnel while also keeping equipment updated and at-the ready,” Fritz concurred. “Act 13 money is essential in keeping emergency management agencies open and ready to respond.”
“As the recent distribution of funds reminds us, the money is making a difference for our local units,” Baker added, “and helping out local tax payers who do not have to carry the costs.”
“Cabot Oil & Gas is pleased to see the dollars we pay to the state as Impact Fees coming home and benefiting our local first responders,” said Cabot director of external affairs George Stark. “So often these volunteers are the fabric of the community, and we applaud the commissioners for recognizing their skills and tireless efforts.