SWATARA TOWNSHIP, DAUPHIN COUNTY, Pa. -The Swatara Township budget for 2019 will increase money for fire safety that would be used to improve a volunteer firefighters incentive program.
"It's a simple thank you for everything that they're doing," said Chief Mike Ibberson, Swatara Township Fire Rescue.
It's a way to give back to volunteer firefighters. The 2019 budgets for Swatara Township allocates $100,000 toward the volunteer firefighter incentive program, up from $30,000 in the current program.
Swatara Township Board of Commissioners President Tom Connolly says the increase is possible with savings in other areas of the budget and will come at no extra cost to the taxpayer.
"I think it's really good for public safety by having a volunteer fire department, they save taxpayers a lot of money as opposed to a paid fire service," said Connolly. "So it's the least we can do to put this incentive program in place to repay them for the time away from their families and the time they provide to Swatara Township."
In the current incentive program, volunteer firefighters can get paid up to $500 a year. With the budget increase, that incentive jumps up to $1,400 a year. It's all based on certifications and a point system rewarding firefighters for things like responding to emergencies, attending training, and being on standby at a station.
"It's hard to get people to volunteer for pretty much anything in today's day and age," said Ibberson. "Churches struggle, other volunteer organizations struggle and volunteer fire departments struggle also."
While many departments struggle to retain or attract volunteers, Ibberson says they have a strong 95-man roster. While there is always room for improvement, he hopes this incentive program will help the department avoid struggles and become even stronger in the future.
"We'll continue to you know, make it better moving forward," said Ibberson. "This is a base and we're gonna try it and evaluate and see how it works and make improvements on it."
The incentive program will go into effect January 1, 2018.