‘A public safety disaster’: Obamacare could force THOUSANDS of volunteer fire departments to close

  • The Affordable Care Act forces companies with more than 50 workers to buy them all health insurance or pay hefty fines
  • The IRS says volunteer firefighters are ’employees,’ even though the Department of Labor says they’re ‘volunteers’
  • Out of more than 1 million fire departments in the U.S., 87 per cent are staffed entirely or mostly by life-saving volunteers
  • Members of Congress are weighing in, but the Obama administration hasn’t taken any action yet to carve out a fire-fighting exception

By  David Martosko, U.s. Political Editor

PUBLISHED: 15:58 EST, 9 December 2013 |  UPDATED: 23:11 EST, 9 December 2013

Volunteer fire departments all across the U.S. could find themselves out of money and unable to operate unless Congress or the Obama Administration exempts them from the Affordable Care Act.

‘I thought the kinks were worked out  of Obamacare at the first of the month, Central Florida volunteer  firefighter Carl Fabrizi told Sunshine State News.

‘Man, oh, man, this could potentially destroy some real good companies in Florida.’

The U.S. Department of Labor takes the term ‘volunteer’ literally, but the IRS says volunteer firefighters are technically employees if they’re on the job more than 30 hours per week, making them subject to Obamacare’s employee-mandate rules.

 

Firefighters battled a blaze in the aftermath of a Nov. 18 tornado in Washington, Illinois. The vast majority of U.S. firefighters are community volunteers 

Firefighters battled a blaze in the aftermath of a Nov. 18 tornado in Washington, Illinois. The vast majority of U.S. firefighters are community volunteers

Wildfires like this August 2013 disaster near Banning, California bring volunteer firefighters out of the woodwork to risk their lives 

Wildfires like this August 2013 disaster near Banning, California bring volunteer firefighters out of the woodwork to risk their lives

 

 

Since the Obamacare law doesn’t specifically carve out an exemption for them, fire departments where 50 or more people work – either as volunteers or officially as employees – are expected to provide health insurance for every one of them.

In towns with more than one volunteer fire department, all the staffers will likely be lumped together for tax purposes, pushing many municipalities above the 50-worker threshold.

That could cost departments of life-savers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Those that dump their volunteers into the federal insurance exchanges would still have to pay an annual $2,000 fine for each ’employee’ after the first 30.

‘I can tell you right now we can’t afford it,’ East Derry, Pennsylvania Fire Company Chief Edward Mann told the Patriot-News. ‘While a volunteer fire department may not have a payroll, the rest of it isn’t free. The only part that is free is the labor.’

Mann’s concerns are likely to get at least some attention in Washington: He’s also the state fire commissioner in Pennsylvania, where 97 per cent of fire departments are fully or mostly staffed by volunteers. That’s the highest percentage in the U.S
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