Press Releases

Warner Leads Bipartisan Group in Introducing Bill to Exempt Volunteer First Responders from Healthcare Mandate

Proposal designed to allow localities to retain volunteer first responders

Dec 11 2013

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led a group of Senators in introducing bipartisan legislation to ensure volunteer firefighters and other first responders can continue protecting communities that rely on them. The Protect Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act, which is cosponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Angus King (I-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Mark Begich (D-AK), amends the Affordable Care Act to make it clear that volunteer emergency service workers are not required to be counted as full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) for purposes of healthcare coverage. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House by Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA-11).

Some volunteer firefighters  are nominally paid, and most volunteer first responders have other full-time employment. Many emergency response agencies do not have the resources to provide pay or benefits to volunteers, nor do most volunteer first responders expect to receive compensation or health coverage as a result of their  volunteer public service. An estimated 48,000 volunteer firefighters serve across Virginia and an estimated 454 volunteer EMT's, according to the  Virginia Department of Fire Programs the Virginia Department of Health, respectively. 

“Properly distinguishing between full-time, paid emergency responders and volunteers is necessary if we want to protect essential emergency response agencies that keep our communities safe and protect over one-third of the U.S. population,” Sen. Warner said. “I’ve said all along that there will be issues that arise with health care reform and we should deal  with them in a bipartisan manner. I am proud to offer this legislation to protect those who protect us.”

“We all know that the main goal of the Affordable Care Act is to provide all Americans with accessible and affordable health care coverage,” Sen. Manchin said. “However, we also know that there have been many missteps and unintentional consequences during the implementation of this law. Due to a technical error that unintentionally penalizes volunteer fire departments, the law jeopardizes funding for training and emergency response hours by imposing unreasonable burdens on many of our volunteer emergency response agencies. Our bipartisan fix makes sure there is a clear distinction between full-time, paid emergency responders and volunteers so that our emergency response teams can keep our communities safe without the threat of reducing necessary funding for training or emergency response hours. I thank my good friend Senator Mark Warner for his leadership on fixing this problem with the Affordable Care Act.”

“From small cities to rural communities – Pennsylvania has the largest number of volunteer fire departments in the country,” Sen. Toomey said. “These departments play a crucial role in protecting Pennsylvanians every day.  This bipartisan legislation will protect these fire departments from the devastating consequences of Obamacare.  Pennsylvania is fortunate to have so many dedicated volunteers willing to risk their lives for their fellow citizens and the least we can do is help them keep their doors open.”

“Hundreds of small towns in Maine and thousands more across the nation rely on volunteer firefighters and other emergency first responders to protect our local communities. Our bipartisan legislation will draw an important distinction between those volunteers and full-time, paid staff that will ensure emergency response units can continue to deliver robust services without the fear of having to deal with cumbersome federal regulations. I have always said that I am prepared to work with my colleagues to improve the ACA, and today I am proud to join with Senators Warner, Manchin, Toomey, and Collins in support of this common-sense fix,” Sen. King said.

“Maine boasts one of the highest percentages of volunteer and on-call firefighters in the nation, and these brave men and women play a vital role in keeping our communities safe each and every day,” Sen. Collins said.  “It is unacceptable that an undue burden could be placed on volunteer fire departments across the country, and it is imperative that this ambiguity in the law be clarified and fixed.”

"Our first responders and firefighters who put their safety on the line to keep our families and communities safe in Alaska and throughout the country need the certainty that they have the necessary resources to keep offering their services ," said Sen. Begich. "I am glad that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have come together to support this common sense bill and make sure these brave men and women are not faced with an undue burden of providing non-full time employees with health care."

This bipartisan legislation has been endorsed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Volunteer Fire Council, and Congressional Fire Services Institute.

“The IAFC strongly supports Sen. Warner and Sen. Manchin’s bill to clarify the status of volunteer firefighters under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This is a bipartisan issue which could have serious impacts on staffing at fire departments across the United States,” said Chief William Metcalf, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. “The IAFC looks forward to working with Congress and the Administration to help ensure fire departments of all types are able to continue saving lives and serving their communities.”


The text of the Protect Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act is available here.