SC volunteer fire departments pleased with ACA exemption - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

SC volunteer fire departments pleased with ACA exemption

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

Fire departments in the Palmetto State are pleased with the decision from the U.S. Department of Treasury to exempt volunteer fire departments from providing health care coverage.

When you see the flashing lights and the firefighters working, you don't think about their job titles.

"We have about 100 volunteer firefighters in Clarendon County," Clarendon County Fire Department Deputy Chief Jonathan Jones said.

Officials said volunteers make up about 70 percent of the force in South Carolina.

Fire Chief Tony Dicks, who works for the Barnwell Fire Department said funds are tight for volunteer firefighters.

"Volunteer fire departments are financially struggling as it is and they can't afford to come out and provide healthcare insurance for their personnel," Dicks said.

A section of the Affordable Care Act mandated many fire departments to provide benefits to volunteers, something fire officials say would have meant less volunteers or higher taxes.

"To go tell a volunteer, 'hey, we want you to be a part of the organization, but only for this many hours a week,' would have been a huge morale hit to them," said Oconee County Fire Chief Charlie King. "Or, we would have had to gone to the taxpayers and said the cost to provide health coverage to these volunteers in Oconee County alone was just over $2.5 million."

Volunteer firefighters and other emergency responders won't be counted as full-time employees under the Affordable Care Act when the department releases its final regulations shortly, Mark Mazur, assistant secretary for Tax Policy, wrote in a blog post on the department's website.

"They can put that funding toward equipment and training as well as recruitment efforts and retention efforts for keeping volunteer firefighters," Dicks said.

Firefighter organizations and chiefs throughout the country have been calling on the federal government to ensure they're exempt from the law, which requires employers with 50 or more employees working at least 30 hours a week to provide health insurance for them.

"These people are willing to drop everything on Christmas morning and go help their neighbor and aren't you glad somebody's willing to do that," Jones said.

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