Volunteer firefighters are learning they may not be able to help as much because of the Affordable Care Act or it will cost fire departments millions.
South Carolina depends heavily on volunteer firefighters, 65% of firefighters in the state are volunteers according to the State Firefighters’ Association. Right now the Internal Revenue Service considers volunteer firefighters as employees. The State Association says that means volunteer fire departments will either have to cut volunteer hours or spend millions insuring them.
The association estimates it would cost South Carolina local governments more than $55,000,000 each year to insure all their volunteers. Oconee County has 480 volunteer firefighters. Chief Charlie King says it would cost $2,500,000 each year to give them all insurance.
“I think it’s next to impossible to go out and expect the tax payers to foot $2,500,000 for health insurance,” King says.
King says response times are also at risk. Volunteers are frustrated that their departments have been put in this position.
“I take time out of my life to serve my community, so let me do it when I want to,” says volunteer Austin Okelley.
Okelley has worked his way up from Explorer to now a paid Firefighter with the Westminster Fire Department. He still volunteers with the Friendship Fire Department.
“I don’t understand why people that want to help why should we be cut back,” Okelley says.
The state Firefighters’ Association has sent a letter to Senator Lindsey Graham urging him to support a newly introduced bill in Washington D. C. The “Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act” (S. 1798) would exempt volunteer firefighters and emergency responders from the Affordable Care Act. King is urging people to contact their leaders in Washington to support it.