Firefighting, Leadership

National Fire Service Organizations Address Volunteer Fire Service Health Care Concerns

The Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI), the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), are currently working with members of Congress and the Administration to address the potential impact that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) could have on volunteer fire departments throughout the nation.
 
According to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) (P.L. 111-148), employers with more than 50 full-time employees (or their equivalents (FTE)) must provide health insurance to employees that work more than 30 hours per week. Unfortunately, the Internal Revenue Service has ruled that volunteer firefighters that receive nominal benefits from their fire departments (including stipends, end-of-the-year banquets and awards) count as “employees” of fire departments. An unintended consequence of this IRS ruling is that fire departments may have to provide health insurance to volunteers that serve more than 30 hours per week at their local fire department.
 
The effect of this provision could cause serious financial hardship to fire departments. Many volunteer fire departments rely upon local donations and fundraisers to fund their basic operations. The addition of a requirement to provide health insurance would present a serious financial challenge to them.
 
Although the final regulations have not been codified, the aforementioned organizations are working with a bipartisan group of members of Congress to address this potential consequence of the PPACA.
 
The NVFC, IAFC, and several members of Congress have sent letters to the IRS asking Acting-Commissioner Werfel to release regulations or guidance stating volunteers who receive nominal compensation will not be considered employees under PPACA. On December 10, 2013, Senator Mark Warner (VA) and Congressman Lou Barletta (PA-11) introduced the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act (H.R. 3685 and S. 1798). The legislation ensures that volunteers are not counted as full-time employees under the shared responsibility requirements contained in PPACA.  
 
CFSI, NVFC and IAFC will continue to provide updates to the fire service as these efforts are being addressed on Capitol Hill and within the Administration. Please visit our website sites (www.cfsi.org, www.nvfc.org, www.iafc.org) for the latest information.