In recent weeks, I’ve heard from a number of volunteer firefighters sharing their concerns regarding legislation approved last year by the General Assembly intended to provide additional protections for Pennsylvania’s children against various forms of abuse and neglect.
While the laws were widely praised as an important step to protect children, volunteer firefighters have expressed concerns regarding how the law might affect their organizations. In an effort to clarify any misunderstandings on this topic, it should be noted volunteer firefighters in most cases will not face any new obligations under the new child abuse prevention laws which go into effect in July.
The child protection package included a provision requiring background checks and child abuse clearances for individuals who have direct contact with children. However, most volunteer firefighters do not meet the legal definition necessary to require them to undergo a background check or child abuse clearance in order to perform their duties.
The only exception to this rule would be those volunteer firefighters who participate in programs in which they supervise children, such as junior fire academies and emergency services programs. Even in those cases, individuals who have resided in Pennsylvania for at least ten years will only need to obtain the child abuse clearance and background check through state agencies, not the more intrusive FBI check. As such, volunteer firefighters who oversee children will pay a $10 fee for State Police criminal record checks and a $10 fee for child abuse history clearances.
It is also worth mentioning that legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives to eliminate fees for volunteers. Below are the pending proposals; for more information, visit www.legis.state.pa.us.
- House Bill 711 (sponsor: Representative Truitt) – would prohibit the Pennsylvania State Police and Department of Human Services from charging any fee for background checks for volunteers.
- House Bill 1081 (sponsor: Representative Davis) – would exempt current and prospective volunteer and paid firefighters and members of emergency medical services (EMS) agencies from the $10 State Police criminal background clearance fee and the $10 Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) child abuse clearance fee.
I hope you find this information helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have additional questions. As we move forward, I will continue to monitor this legislation as well as other efforts and will work to keep you apprised of any update in legislative activity.