Reed cosponsors measure to protect firefighters

Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) cosponsored a bipartisan bill on Tuesday that would prevent volunteer emergency responders from being classified as full-time employees who are entitled to benefits under the Affordable Care Act.

The Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act would ensure that communities aren’t forced to shoulder costs to provide benefits to volunteers who usually receive coverage from employers, Reed said.

“Volunteer firefighters and emergency medical services personnel deserve full support and backing, not barriers that potentially put them out of business,” Reed said. “We rely heavily on our volunteer firefighters in our time of need. Just as they care for us, we need to care for and protect them so they can continue serving our communities. Many of our rural communities rely exclusively on volunteer fire departments for fire and emergency medical services – they cannot afford to have services reduced with regulations that put public safety at risk.”

The ACA’s employer mandate requires employers with more than 50 employees to provide benefits to those who work more than 30 hours a week, or face a penalty. Opponents of the provision argue that it would require communities to reduce emergency response staff.

“Forcing fire departments to make the tough decision to eliminate volunteers is not fair to the departments, the volunteers who selflessly give their time and expertise, or the communities who benefit from their emergency services,” Reed said. “This is yet another harmful consequence resulting from the President’s health care law and one we must work to make right.”

Public safety officials from New York support the measure as a necessary step to ensure that critical emergency services remain in tact, in rural areas in particular.

“This issue is of extraordinary importance to the volunteer fire services of Chemung County and the surrounding area,” Chemung County Director of Emergency Management Services Mike Smith said. “With the limited budget for emergency services, we already struggle to make sure that our volunteers have adequate equipment and we do not have the financial wherewithal to fund this additional mandate.”