Op-ed on County grant programs to fund Police, Fire and EMS services – By County Executive Lamont McClure

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First responders have a critical role in protecting the public’s health and our Police, Fire and EMS organizations have shown true heroism throughout the COVID-19 crisis. While these services are traditionally provided by municipalities Northampton County knew that when the pandemic approached our doorstep, it was important to make sure these organizations had all the support they needed.

We began the Grow NORCO and EMS grant programs in 2020 to assist our municipalities and non-profits so they, in turn, could assist our residents.

In 2021, Police departments in Northampton County went out on 201,941 calls, EMS organizations answered 47,436 calls and our Fire departments handled 47,436 calls. Our front line workers responded to everything from car accidents, abandoned vehicles, heart attacks, assaults, gas leaks, downed wires, homicides, missing children, burglaries and transport to the hospital. And, for the past two years, they’ve carried out their duties in the midst of a global pandemic.

We need local police to be available around-the-clock to patrol our neighborhoods, respond to 911 calls, investigate local crimes, direct traffic and educate our youth through safety and mentoring programs. But the job requires an extensive amount of equipment and training including vehicles, radios and security cameras. This equipment, while necessary, is not cheap and the costs can easily overwhelm a small municipality.

I am in awe of the brave men and women who selflessly volunteer their time to their local fire departments but, even in those units where the labor comes free, the equipment is guaranteed to be expensive. Volunteer Fire Departments and non-profit EMS organizations are funded through municipal budgets, state grants and fundraisers. While those funding streams are important they often aren’t up to the task of covering equipment like pumper trucks and defibrillators.

Ambulances have been around longer than fire departments. Societies have always required a means to transport the sick and injured. In America, the system of moving the wounded from the battlefield to a location where they could receive treatment was improved through necessity during the Civil War. By the 1960s, the advancements in mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and cardiac massage made it clear that trained medical professionals were necessary to respond to emergencies and often made the difference between life and death. Emergency Medical Services have saved countless lives with ambulances whether they be automobiles, or boats or aircraft, but these transportation methods don’t come cheap.

EMS grants can be awarded up to $10,000 and used to purchase equipment, vehicles or training. Grow NORCO grants can be awarded up to $50,000 and used for Capital Improvements, Operations, Community Planning and Municipal Police Department supports. Both types of grants are funded with revenue from local table games.

In 2020, the programs paid for the installation of plexi-glass barriers, ventilation systems, personal protective equipment, technology to hold virtual meetings and other expenses related to COVID-19. Since then we’ve expanded them to cover police radios, emergency vehicles, fire security equipment, building improvements, cameras and all of the other things non-profit and municipal organizations need to properly protect our residents.

In 2021, the County distributed approximately $2.8 million to 63 organizations for 87 projects. Items included payroll costs for staff at shelters, the purchase of police vehicles, the installation of fire alarms, body cameras, salaries for youth work opportunities, and roof replacements. This money has kept people employed as well as making sure our first responders will have the equipment they need when they need it.

The funding of Police, Fire and EMS organizations is not a core-County function, but the health, safety and well-being of our residents is our number one priority. We live in interesting times—this moment that we are currently navigating through is both a blessing and a curse. That is why Northampton County dispensed with tradition in 2020 and opened up two new grant programs to support those services critical to protecting public health. I encourage all eligible organizations looking for funding to consider applying for an EMS or Grow NORCO grant. Information is available on the Northampton County website on the Department of Community and Development (DCED) page. Applications for Grow NORCO grants open on June 20th; EMS grants open on August 1st.

Information provided to TVL by:
Becky Bartlett
Deputy Director of Administration
Northampton County Government Center
669 Washington Street
Easton, PA 18042