Centre County commissioners honor EMS, fire personnel

PHOTO PROVIDED The Centre County commissioners, from left, Michael Pipe, Mark Higgins and Steve Dershem, honored countless EMS and fire personnel at Tuesday’s meeting.

By CHRIS MORELLI

cmorelli@lockhaven.com

BELLEFONTE — Throughout Centre County, emergency medical service providers and fire companies continue to struggle with funding and staffing.

At Tuesday’s Centre County commissioner’s meeting, the commissioners proclaimed this week Emergency Medical Services week in the county. The theme was “EMS Strong: Beyond the Call.”

The proclamation was the commissioners’ 15th of 2019.

“Thank you for all the work you do for Centre County,” said commissioner Michael Pipe. “Volunteerism is so important for our community.”

In Centre County, there are eight ambulance services and four quick response services. There are a total of 416 certified providers. In 2018, they had 28,197 responses, including 15,689 for emergencies and 2,508 non-emergency, according to Rich Kelley, EMS supervisor at Mount Nittany Medical Center and vice-president of the Centre County Ambulance Association. Kelley spoke to the commissioners on Tuesday.

“Every year the system seems to get a little bit busier,” Kelley said. “All of our services back each other up and we certainly work very well. As the system continues to get busy and we continue to struggle with some manpower issues, we rely very heavily upon one another.”

Kelley said that there is a dire need for funding and volunteers.

“If you’ve picked up a newspaper, you’ve seen in the past year numerous, numerous articles (about) various fire services and EMS services in Centre County. All of them have the same need – not just financial struggles, but also the manpower struggles. Everybody is in desperate need of volunteers. Even on the paid side or the professional side, we’re struggling for qualified applicants,” Kelley said.

According to Kelley, the low pay and long hours make it hard to attract employees.

Commissioner Steve Dershem tipped his cap to EMS and fire personnel for their efforts.

“One of the challenges we’ve seen over the last few years is the that when you guys roll out on a call and the individual on the receiving end of that call doesn’t need your services, you’ve deployed a lot of resources and a lot of your time, but it doesn’t mean you get paid for your efforts,” Commissioner Steve Dershem said. “I think we need to look at a more equitable way of funding you folks because there’s going to be so many times in the future when there’s going to be communities that don’t have EMS coverage, don’t have the opportunity to pick up the phone and have someone immediately there. It’s devastating for me to think that may be in the future for some of our areas.”

Want to help? There are plenty of ways to do so.

“I’m a member at Centre LifeLink and I believe that several of the other services in the county sell memberships. That’s another way that you can support our local emergency responders,” said commissioner Mark Higgins.

COMMENTS