To Draw Volunteers, Perry Hi-Way Hose Co. Offers Scholarship - WICU12 HD WSEE Erie, PA News, Sports, Weather, Events

To Draw Volunteers, Perry Hi-Way Hose Co. Offers Scholarship

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SUMMIT -- Volunteer firefighters are at an all-time low in Pennsylvania, and local departments also feel the pinch.

Now, Perry Hi-Way Hose Company is offering a college scholarship as a new incentive to help bring in volunteers. 

Those who volunteer for one year are awarded a $4,000 to help cover tuition costs. The year of volunteering requires less than 20 hours per week and for parents, the scholarship is also transferable to children.

The new program is funded through a four-year grant from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Perry Hi-Way also offers free room and board for college student volunteers at the station which has room for ten men and six women, though it's not required.

"We just actually lost 3 members over the last month or so," said John Spaulding, Deputy Chief of Perry Hi-Way. "Two college students who boarded here just graduated, and one woman no longer has the time to keep volunteering."

But they are hoping to combat the trend with their new scholarship program. Josh Sadowy is one of the college students leaving the company. He's been volunteering with Perry Hi-Way for the past four years.

"College tuition is rising, it never lowers. I know a lot of students out there who really to look for these kinds of programs to benefit themselves," Sadowy said.

He's moving out of Erie, but says he might return to Behrend to pursue an MBA and continue volunteering.

"If I return, then I would probably get some tuition funding, but that's not really why I'm here. I do this because I love it," Sadowy said.

Harrisburg:

The volunteer pinch is felt state-wide: PA had 300,000 volunteers 30 years ago. The number is down to less than 50,000 now.

In response to the shortage, Senator Wiley introduced a bill that would give municipalities the power to waive local earned income tax for volunteer firefighters and first responders.

"Really, this is an effort of public safety in making sure our rural areas are safe," Wiley said.

More families today rely on double incomes, which may shed light on the reason for the shortage.

"Our families are facing tougher times. We have two incomes coming into homes these days and people are finding it harder to find the time to volunteer," Wiley said.

Wiley said the bill is seeing bipartisan support in Harrisburg.

If all firefighter/EMS volunteers were paid, it would cost the state about $6 billion per year.

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