If volunteer firefighters are classified as employees, volunteer fire departments throughout the country could be out of money and not able to operate unless the Obama administration or Congress exempts them from the Affordable Care Act.
Mail Online reports that 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.
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 and many departments won’t be able to afford the costs.
One fire chief in Pennsylvania, a state where 97 percent of fire departments are fully or mostly staffed by volunteers, said he can’t be burdened with having to provide health insurance to his volunteer squad.
“I can tell you right now we can’t afford it,” Edward Mann, the State Fire Commissioner and chief of a local fire company in Mifflinburg, Pa., 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.”
Mail Online also reports that the International Association of Fire Chiefs has asked the IRS to let all volunteer departments off the hook. The federal government has taken no action so far.
“If the IRS classifies volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel as employees in their final rule, fire departments may be unintentionally forced to comply with requirements that could force them to curtail their emergency response activities or close entirely,” the organization said in a statement.
New York Rep. Chris Collins had his own evaluation of the rule for the IRS, writing in a letter to Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel that it will produce “a public safety disaster.”