CLAY COUNTY, Fla. -- The Affordable Care Act could potentially put volunteer firefighters at risk, leaving many communities without the backup they need in case of an emergency.
According to Clay County Fire Chief Lorin Mock, there are about 60 volunteer firefighters in Clay County. Each one of them is considered the backbone to the 157 firefighters already on the county's payroll.
"For us, they're an important force augmentation," said Mock.
The concern is that under the new health care law, fire departments would be required to provide volunteers with health care benefits or pay a fine.
Providing health benefits to volunteers could put a huge burden on Clay County's limited budget, which could force the county to cut hours or reduce staffing.
According to Mock, he is not cutting any hours.
"It's literally a whole scale of colors, if you will, as to whether it really applies or doesn't apply. We just don't know where we stand right now," said Mock.
The potential impact is enough for Mock to keep an eye on Capitol Hill. According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives that aims to clarify that volunteer firefighters will not be counted as employees.
The clarification will exempt fire departments from having to provide coverage.
"They are important members of our organization, as they are in those other communities that they serve," said Mock.
The earliest a volunteer agency could see a penalty is in 2015, but Mock is confident the issue will be fixed either in the legislature or in the implementation of regulations by the IRS well before then.