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BARLETTA TOURS HOSE COMPANY-Congressman Lou Barletta visited the Mountaintop Hose Company Nov. 6. He spoke to firefighters and emergency medical workers about their concerns and was given a tour by Fire Chief Pete Kohl, left.

Route 81 from there. Also, Haverlak added, the group spoke at length about gypsy moths and Barletta’s and the state representatives’ endeavor to get funds to this area for gypsy moth spraying.

Meanwhile, a group of firefighters and emergency responders gathered at the newly renovated Mountaintop Hose Company to meet the congressman.

“I’m glad he’s taking time out of his busy schedule to meet with the fire and emergency service volunteers,” related David Hourigan, president of the Mountaintop Hose Company, just before Barletta’s arrival.

In the past decade, the fire department has received four grants, totaling $235,000, from the Department of Homeland Security. That money has paid for new gear including a compressor and costly air packs, Hourigan said. As Barletta and others entered the fire station, Hourigan and Fire Chief Pete Kohl began showing the congressman the equipment the grant money funded.

“The fire department has always been close to me,” Barletta related of why he felt visiting the Mountaintop Hose Co. was important. “Ninetysix percent of fire companies in Pennsylvania are volunteers.”

He went on to tell the group about the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act that he introduced to the House last year. The bill excludes volunteer organizations from having to give firefighters and emergency medical personnel insurance, as would have been required under Obama Care, which would have been a crippling cost to these organizations.

Barletta’s bill passed in the House with 417 for it and zero against it. “I can’t count on my hands how many times that’s happened,” the Republican said of both Democrats and Republicans agreeing on a vote.

Still, three times the bill was squashed in the Senate. Fortunately, the Internal Revenue Service agreed with the exemption and went along with Barletta’s proposal. He isn’t done trying, however, to get the bill passed, he said.

Barletta went on that he is constantly fighting for grants for firefighters and emergency workers and speaking out against the cutting of funds for those organizations.

The small group of firefighters and emergency responders, who formed a circle around Barletta as he spoke, conveyed how gravely troubled they are with dwindling volunteerism in their organizations.

“We can have all the equipment we need, but it’s useless without members,” stated Valerie Zane, of Dorrance Emergency Medical Services. The number of EMS volunteers is diminishing, she said, and Dorrance even has an 80-year-old EMT who is afraid to retire because she knows there is no one to replace her.

“People are unfortunately putting their priorities -their jobs and their families -and I can’t blame them, over volunteerism,” Zane continued. “They have to have an incentive.”

Lack of volunteerism is happening everywhere, Barletta replied. “It’s a real problem. In Pennsylvania, we should be really concerned,” he said.

State Rep. Pashinski asked the group what kinds of incentives might move people to volunteer. One fireman suggested that children of active volunteers receive state college funding; others mentioned tax credits.

The fire and EMS departments would fall apart without volunteers, Zane said. But, she said, the volunteers now with no new members to replace them are going to die in their posts.

“I think the public needs to be made aware that we’re struggling,” Zane continued. “…All of us are going to be taken out of here feet first and that’s the harsh reality of it.”

The general public doesn’t know this is a problem, said Fire Chief Kohl. People see the fire trucks out and running and think everything is fine, he said. Zane added that people donate $30 a year to the Ambulance Association and think they’ve done their part. Also, she said, they expect to call 911 and get immediate service when, in reality, the emergency workers are barely getting by with the volunteers they have.

Pashinski offered having a public hearing before government officials, where volunteers can testify to these problems.

The volunteer problem is a generational issue, voiced Todd Wagaman, assistant fire chief for the Mountaintop Hose Company. He has a 15-year-old son who has no interest in firefighting and the boy’s friends are the same; they don’t want to take classes and volunteer.

Wagaman went on that, in his day job, he leads 100 people and struggles to find 10 in that group who will step away from their families and offer volunteer hours. Simply sending a letter to the community asking for volunteers won’t help this generation become motivated, he said.

“You are the guys that can actually design what can be done cause you’re in the trenches,” said Pashinski. The politician passed his business card to the firemen and Barletta’s district director exchanged his information as well.

Barletta and his crew then made a final stop in Mountaintop at the American Legion where they were greeted by a large group of veterans and constituents. Al Finn, vice commander of the legion, joked with the congressman that he wore his best suit so that the politician wouldn’t upstage him.

John Columbo, commander of the

American Legion, gave Barletta a tour of the grounds. With 260 acres owned by Post 781, the land boasts a baseball field and a view of Lake Blytheburn.

“We appreciate him taking the time to come to our club,” said Columbo. The legion in Mountaintop has 1,500 members and Barletta promised to pay it a yearly visit.

After drinking a beer with locals and shaking hands around the bar, Barletta concluded his tour of Mountaintop by presenting Post 781 with an American flag. The flag flew over the National Capitol and was presented as a token of appreciation to those in Mountaintop who have served in the military.

“It was a good day, a very good day,” Barletta told Haverlak, and the two vowed to keep in touch.