Thanks to President Biden and Democrats — and no thanks to a single Republican — Pittsburgh area emergency services receive a much-needed boost

PENNSYLVANIA — Bridgeville Fire Chief Ray Costain can finally breathe a sigh of relief thanks to President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Costain wondered whether his department would have to close its doors, but because of the funding from ARP, this is no longer a worry. The Bridgeville Fire Department is one of many Pittsburgh fire and EMS departments who will be receiving part of the $5 million American Rescue Plan funding, set aside for ​volunteer fire departments and emergency medical services. 

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Pittsburgh region’s fire and EMS departments applaud relief funds after months of COVID-19 hardships 

A few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Bridgeville fire Chief Ray Costain wondered whether his department would have to close its doors.

With many volunteer fire departments across Allegheny County taking a serious financial hit from the pandemic, Allegheny County Council recently approved a spending plan that will deliver $5 million to volunteer fire departments and emergency medical services. Each of the county’s 200-some eligible agencies will receive $25,000, regardless of size or financial need.

The money is part of a larger package of American Rescue Plan, which will be allocated to child care providers, low-income renters and other public services to offset financial strain caused by COVID-19. All of the county’s ARP money must be budgeted by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

A large portion of a volunteer fire department’s budget comes from fundraising events like fish fries and bingos, most of which have largely been on hold since March 2020, causing financial distress for those departments.

Chief Costain said his department has a budget of about $250,000 per year, and 80% of that money comes from fundraisers. He said the department has been able to make up 40% of its losses by running online fundraisers, but the department is still struggling to fund day-to-day operations.

“Any amount of money I can use … fills the void of all the money we spent during COVID-19,” he said.


As a consequence of driving COVID-19 patients to the hospital during the pandemic, eight of Chief Plunkett’s 34 EMTs also contracted the coronavirus, and many more had to quarantine, putting a strain on staffing. One of the EMTs got mild pneumonia, but none of the staffers had to be hospitalized, he said.

“We feel very lucky compared to a lot of workforces out there that actually had deaths,” Chief Plunkett said.

The pandemic was only the latest test for EMS agencies in Allegheny County. Nearly a quarter of Pennsylvania’s EMS agencies closed permanently between 2012 and 2018 due to budget deficits and staffing shortages. Chief Plunkett said the latest round of stimulus funding helps, but many challenges remain.