Fire departments may have to scale back because their volunteers work too long. It could be the latest unintended consequence of the Affordable Care Act.
Under the healthcare law, counties are required to provide heath insurance for firefighters, including volunteer firefighters, but many of the counties are finding that they may not have the funds to provide insurance for departments that operate using dozens of volunteers.
For example, Cheatham County has nine firefighters on the payroll, while about 60 to 70 extra men and women work as volunteers. But if the county is forced to insure them, volunteer firefighters could start disappearing from the ranks.
"Through these tough economic times, it's been tough to keep what we have, and much less hire more right now," said Ashland City Fire Chief Chuck Walker.
About 75 percent of all firefighters in Tennessee are volunteers. Even if your home never catches on fire, it affects you, because the number of working firefighters affects your insurance rate.
The International Association of Fire Chiefs has asked the Obama administration for answers. The hope is since workman's comp is already provided, and since many of these firefighters are insured elsewhere, the standing rule of any business with 50 employees who work 30 hours a week must be insured will be waved.
But, so far, the administration hasn't offered any answers.
"I think you would see a lot of fire departments that are fully volunteers just close their doors. They wouldn't have a choice," Walker said.
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