GREENSBORO, N.C. -- In an emergency we trust our local fire department to be there to help. But some say a clause in the Affordable Care Act might hurt their ability to protect you. The new law treats volunteer fire fighters as regular employees. So, larger departments will have to provide them with insurance.
With volunteer right in the name - it's seems crazy to consider these volunteer firefighters "employees" - requiring insurance coverage. But the IRS says any volunteer serving more than 30 hours a week and receiving compensation like mileage reimbursement or training stipends is really a full time employee. Have more than 50 of those full time "employees" and the volunteer fire department will have to provide insurance starting in 2015.
"We cannot afford to do that," Summerfield Volunteer Fire Chief Chris Johnson said.
Johnson will most likely have to cut 11 volunteers to be considered a small employer and avoid the charges.
"If we start trimming our numbers, that means we're providing less of a service to the community when they dial 911 and need help. This is a time when we're running more calls than we've ever had in the past and where we need more people, not cutting numbers," he said.
Fewer volunteers also means the station loses its insurance accreditation, so people in the area will see their home insurance bills increase. And the chief estimates premiums could triple.
Across the U.S., the National Volunteer Fire Council estimates at least a third of all volunteer departments could be impacted. Seven of Guilford County's 21 volunteer departments might be required to pay insurance costs.
Guilford County Emergency Services Director Jim Albright says the requirement could have a huge impact on the county's budget.
"The volunteer resources of this county has been estimated to be a savings of over $28 million a year. If those volunteers are not there, then that is going to have to become a predominantly paid system and the cost is going to increase," Albright said.
County Commissioner Bruce Davis says county residents could end up paying the price.
"Now we're talking about passing on a tax or increasing a tax that our citizens are already overburdened with the tax. So that's the problem if we had to do that. So you're looking at both your home insurance and your taxes going up," Davis said.
There is a bill in the works right now which would fix the wording of the law. But it is still in the very early stages. It hasn't even been read in the committee yet. Of course we'll let you know what happens. In the meantime, the National Volunteer Fire Council has a way you can help. It's a form letter to send your congressmen and women.