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Panel calls for funding for fire and rescue companies

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In a panel discussion among state, county and local officials, convened to review takeaways from the devastation of Hurricane Ida last September in Bucks County, a local official pointed to a need for more funding for local, expert first responders to floods, particularly to allow for increased access to special equipment and training, for more municipalities.

Volunteer fire companies were noted as key players for expert and adequately equipped first response.

The May 10 webinar was cosponsored by Delaware Canal 21 and Primrose Creek Watershed Association, and was facilitated by PennFuture and Conservation Voters of PA. Tim Hayes, Upper Bucks field coordinator for the facilitators, hosted the meeting. There were about 150 attendees, and information from the event is still available from Hayes, via timothy@conservationpa.org.

County Commissioner Chair Bob Harvie noted that while the county “lacked authority over municipalities,” its own emergency management office could help coordinate local emergency management activity, such as its recent sending of a helicopter to dump water on a fire.

Among other remarks, he added that the county was still “taking care of families” disrupted by the storm, including providing hoteling for some Bensalem residents. He also recalled an in-storm rescue effort that been launched by a local fire and rescue company, only to require a rescue effort from the county for themselves, and then for both of those rescue teams to require yet another rescue effort for themselves and the initial trapped motorist.

Tinicum Township Supervisor Eleanor Breslin noted that it was the Delaware Valley Volunteer Fire Company’s swift water rescue team, based in Erwinna, that had finally saved the day for the motorist and the two other squads.

“They had a boat, and train frequently, and also aided other municipalities that didn’t have that equipment and expertise, while conducting 29 swift water rescues in a 24-hour period,” she said. She directed a suggestion to state Sen. Steve Santarsiero, also participating in the webinar, and already active on the state level toward better storm preparedness, to “pursue new funding” for more local volunteer fire departments to gear up and train up.

In his own presentation, Santarsiero had noted previous successful efforts at storm prep while he was serving as a township supervisor. Among other comments, he saw opportunity for the state to address the cost of flood insurance, while encouraging counties and municipalities to accomplish preemptive engineering controls, which “would require support from both chambers” of the legislature.

He also urged municipalities to consider installing rain gardens, and new ordinances to promote low-impact development, such as minimizing cartway widths toward further minimizing impervious surface, and utilizing pervious paving whenever appropriate.

In his introduction to the webinar, Hayes noted the storm’s 150 mph winds and 10 inches of rain crested waterways far beyond their normal capacity, and caused their flows to proceed with extreme acceleration. He added the storm had also featured the “rapid intensification” phenomenon that has become all too familiar in the climate change era.

“The terms 100 year and 1,000 year storms no longer apply,” he added, “and there are more of these extreme storms to come.” He said preparation starts with recognizing the need for making informed choices between “green infrastructure,” options, such as “open spaces, marshes and wetlands, rain gardens, beach dunes, and natural barriers,” and “gray infrastructure” options, such as “seawalls/flood walls, road improvements, levees and dams, tide- and floodgates, stormwater pumps, upgraded stormwater systems, and regular maintenance.”


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