$50M for first responders, Wolf reminds volunteer fire and EMS

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Lancaster, Pa. (WHTM) — “I am here to say, ‘thank you,'” Tom Wolf told volunteers at Lancaster EMS Thursday afternoon.

It was the latest stop on Wolf’s weeks-long thank you tour to first responders who have been waging the up-close battle against Coronavirus.

He shined the spotlight on the men and women who volunteer to run ambulances and fire trucks across the state.

“EMS all over the commonwealth have responded bravely and amazingly to this Covid crisis,” Wolf said.

But the governor didn’t just bring compliments. He brought cash, or the promise of it anyway. Wolf reminded volunteer first responders that the state approved a $50 million grant program. More than 1,100 organizations, including Lancaster EMS, have applied, and the deadline to do so is August 7. Wolf said the money is needed now more than ever since many of the traditional fundraisers like summer carnivals have been curtailed by Covid-19.

“They’ve had to do all kinds of things to adapt,” Wolf said about the declining revenues.

Volunteer EMS and fire departments respond to more than a million calls a year in PA. Those front line workers are constantly seeing people on their worst days. It is stressful. It can cause anguish which is too frequently not acknowledged.

“Suck it up kid, that’s part of the job,” said PA Fire Commissioner Bruce Trego of the attitude that prevailed when he was a  young volunteer.

It’s an attitude he’s working to change. He noted that there are now four training videos that volunteers can access, free of charge, designed to ease the mental burdens. He said well over a hundred fire and EMS personnel take their lives each year in Pennsylvania. That number is already 63 in 2020. He encourages first responders  to come forward if they’re suffering emotionally.

“Collectively, we must eliminate that stigma and see that it does not become part of our new normal,” Trego said.

But Governor Wolf reiterated that part of the new normal should include masks to reduce the likelihood of needing first responders.

“Open your minds and be open to the reality that this virus really loves it when you don’t wear a mask,” Wolf said. “This virus is gonna go from you to somebody else and it might be somebody you care about.”

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