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Tinicum supervisors to vet ways to help Upper Bucks EMS


Several Tinicum residents this month brought the topic of budgetary deficiencies facing Upper Bucks Regional Emergency Medical Services to the township board of supervisors. They also noted what they characterized as low township tax rates for both EMS and fire companies.

Resident Diane Allison expressed her concern having learned of a “substantial shortfall” in funds that could impact both staffing and response times.

Upper Bucks Regional EMS Inc. is a nonprofit agency that provides emergency medical care in Upper Bucks County. The service area encompasses approximately 185 square miles in nine municipalities — Bedminster, Bridgeton, Durham, Haycock, Nockamixon, Riegelsville, Richland, Springfield and Tinicum. Units also provide mutual aid in surrounding towns.

“This should be a huge concern for our community,” stated Allison. “The EMS board are volunteers, but professional staff must be paid as mandated by the state. There has been so much talk over the years about reopening the Headquarters Road Bridge to help improve emergency vehicle response time. This budget crisis is guaranteed to increase response time dramatically.”

Funding has always been a difficult issue for Upper Bucks EMS. For many years, they received foundation money, but Allison confirmed that has now ended, along with COVID-related Recovery Act funding.

“Bucks township contributions within the service area vary, but Tinicum has not been particularly generous in our funding,” she said. “In fact, in my mind our history of contributions is fairly dismal. It’s high time to step in and close the gap.”

Township responses to funding letters have resulted in a response rate of around 15% to 20%.

“Thankfully these emergency departments do not only respond 15 to 20 percent of the time,” chaffed Allison.

Resident Sandy Liza stated she was “shocked” to learn that a nonprofit that helps save lives is so underfunded.

“I know there are grants and other government funding that might be secured,” Liza said. “We need to shine a light on this need now.”

The residents have asked the Tinicum supervisors to do their part in bringing EMS and fire budgets back to healthy levels.

“The health and safety of our residents is the primary work of government,” said Allison. “Let’s not skimp. Let’s not kick this down the road again just because we don’t want to increase taxes.”

Bucks County municipalities have a 3% cap on fire and EMS taxing capability. Municipalities would need to petition the state to increase, or eliminate, this cap. Allison said she believed the current tax to be about 1%.

“There is only so much our volunteers can put into being a firefighter or an ambulance person,” said Supervisor John Cole, who sits on the Palisades Regional Fire Rescue Advisory Board. “When you start demanding their time for fundraising, they will not spend as much time as they should on training. It is incumbent upon us as a society, let alone a community, to support these volunteers. If you think your taxes are high now, they will go a whole lot higher if we must go fully professional.”

Chair Eleanor Breslin concurred with Cole.

“There is a huge difference in impact in finding funding solutions for our volunteers and funding a unionized paid service,” she said. “That would be impossible here in Tinicum.”

“I literally cringe when I see our volunteer firemen standing in the road with a bucket collecting change. Their time is valuable and should not be spent asking for donations, rather for training and being on calls.”

Breslin and Cole this month attended a seminar entitled, “Answering the Call…What’s Your Next Step?” at the Northampton Township Fire Station in Richboro.

Produced in association with the Bucks County Association of Township Officials, it targeted Bucks County’s elected officials with a forward-looking “21st century” focus on the national volunteer crisis and funding solutions.

The seminar emphasized that responsibility for delivering fire services must fall on elected officials, not primarily on municipal fire departments. It also touched on how Bucks County’s diverse municipal fire services can transition from purely volunteer to partially paid staff if response times are too long.

“The more rural a township, like Tinicum, the more challenging our ability to respond quickly,” Breslin said. “In Tinicum, we’ve created a rather unique model where our Department of Public Works takes our fire truck with them during the day when they work on our roads to help improve their emergency response times. This seminar provided us with helpful real-life examples on how to navigate by planning a five and a ten-year view.”

Breslin said she plans to look into the viability of volunteer tax incentives and the limitations of current state budget caps for staff and funding. But she also emphasized her hesitation to consider raising taxes in Tinicum.

“Some Bucks County municipalities might be experiencing a breaking point in their ability to deliver,” she said. “Thankfully, Tinicum is not at that point yet. Instead, we are thinking ahead to be prepared for when the scale tips. But first, we need to build on the existing emergency services foundation we’ve successfully managed over the decades and proactively plan for the future.”

“Our recent board meeting and the ‘Answering the Call’ seminar makes it very clear we could be doing more, starting right now.”

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