Erie County officials say the community is experiencing a fire and EMS crisis.

On Tuesday, leaders from several local fire departments and elected officials met to discuss how to find a solution.

“We have a crisis and we have a crisis now,” said Brenton Davis, Erie County executive.

It’s an issue that has been brewing for some time now as Erie County officials announced the region is facing a fire and EMS crisis. More and more fire departments are struggling with volunteer staffing, equipment and finances.

“The EMS system cannot fail. It’s just not able to fail. It’s too big, it’s too important, and when we pick up the phone and dial 911, we want to make sure that there’s someone to come and help,” said Brian Shank, Erie County Council chairman of District 5.

Two decades ago, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had over 330,000 volunteer firefighters.

Now, the state is down to a mere 30,000 volunteers — that’s 300,000 fewer volunteers. 

“We’re not going to ignore the issues that are in front of us. We’re going to be proactive and introducing the proposal for a fire and EMS authority county-wide can provide the municipalities with a collective way of funding EMS, staffing EMS,” Davis said.

That countywide authority would be led by the umbrella of municipalities that make up Erie County, but it requires everyone’s cooperation.

Funding for fire and EMS has always been an issue, which Davis said could come from casino gaming revenue money.

“I aim to take casino gaming revenue money and put it forward into the fire and EMS services through a municipal authority. That way, we can essentially allow the taxpayers to garner a return,” Davis added.

And because numbers are down, Erie County dropped 1,167 calls last year, which means that many people across the county couldn’t be helped.

“Our numbers are down. People don’t volunteer anymore. I look at the average age in our fire department, there are no 22 or 23-year-olds anymore. It’s folks with gray hair and we’re still doing the mission, and it’s getting tougher and tougher,” Shank said.

Davis also said that if all municipalities join in on the effort, the county could have a fire and EMS authority up and running in anywhere from two to four months.