If passed, bill would forgive $16,000 student loan debt for volunteer first responders

EAST PETERSBURG, LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. -- Whether training or saving lives and property, East Petersburg firefighters do it all, and they don't make a dime.

They're volunteers, and many respond to the call for a very similar reason.
"I really love doing this. I love running the calls. I love the people at the station. I love giving back to the community," said 22-year-old Greg Galante. "It's something I love so much I am trying to make it into a career as well."
Recruiting and actually keeping firefighters like Galante isn't easy.
"Our call volumes are up. There is more time demands. There is more training requirements. There is more liabilities," explained Assistant Fire Chief Mark Cohen.
Cohen thinks House Bill 1786 could help.
If passed, it would establish a first responder loan forgiveness program
After college graduates serve four years as a first responders, they could have up to $16,000 dollars of their student loans forgiven.
"There were people very against this bill, saying, 'why should we give money to people who volunteer?' but I do not think they understand that this $16,000 that they would give volunteers is a very small amount of money compared to what it would cost to fully fund volunteer fire departments across Pennsylvania," explained Cohen.
Right now, East Petersburg Volunteer Fire Company has about 45 sets of gear for 45 active volunteers.
The chief worries there could be more empty lockers if something doesn't change.
With the number of volunteers steadily declining over the years and veteran firefighters getting older, Cohen says it is time for lawmakers to face the harsh truth.
"If Pennsylvania does not do anything, the volunteer service is going away," said Cohen. "It may not be this year, it may not be next year, but within 10 years, you will not have the volunteer fire service."
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