That’s because the Affordable Care Act considers volunteer firefighters who work more than 30 hours a week municipal employees — even though they risk their lives for free. Approximately 71 percent of the fire departments in the United States are staffed entirely by volunteers. An additional 16 percent of fire departments are served by a mixture of paid and volunteer firefighters.
The law does not distinguish between regular fire departments and voluntary fire departments, so if a fire department has 50 or more volunteers, it must provide health insurance – a prospect that the large majority of departments cannot afford. Of course, smaller towns may not have that many volunteers on their roster, but would surely like to increase their numbers in order to provide increased safety for both the community.
And if Pennsylvania Congressman Lou Barletta is reading the law correctly, the number of volunteer firefighters on a roster does not even matter. Barletta said:
My concern is that currently the IRS classifies volunteer firefighters as employees for federal tax purposes. This means that they could be required to provide health care or pay a fine under the Affordable Care Act if they reach 50 volunteers or not. Either way, we all know volunteer fire departments across the country could never be able to provide health care, which I believe could potentially close fire houses across the country. … Volunteer fire departments should not be worrying about whether or not they can provide service to the communities they love.”
When the congressman asked for a clarification from the IRS, the federal agency said only that the volunteer fire departments requirement was “under review.”
Edward Mann, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State Fire Commissioner, said during an interview with the Patriot-News that only the labor of the volunteers is free and that equipment, engines, gear, and building operational costs come with a hefty price tag. He also serves as chief and financial secretary for the East Derry Fire Company. When asked what would happen if his department would have to purchase Obamacare or pay a fine for every firefighter, Mann said, “We can’t afford it and the department would close. In Pennsylvania 97 percent of fire departments are served all or mostly by volunteers. Emergency coverage in the state would nearly grind to a halt should a change to the statute relating to fire departments not be reached.
Congress can exempt volunteer fire departments from the Obamacare law but has not acted. Meanwhile, the International Association of Fire Chiefs is urging the IRS to give them accurate and finalized information about how the health care law will impact departments. The organization has reportedly been working with both Obama administration officials and the federal agency for months on the matter.
For the past three months my volunteer firefighter officer husband has been attending 16 hours of training, been to two meetings per week, and answered multiple emergency pages – and is now over the 30 hours of service minimum. Weekend and evening trainings are both routine and extremely important in all types of fire departments. If volunteer fire departments cannot afford to send firefighters to trainings due to Obamacare expenses, or because of the service hours minimum, safety will be drastically decreased for the community.
How do you feel about the Obamacare volunteer fire department controversy?