There has been quite a bit of fiery talk about how ObamaCare is going to gut local volunteer fire departments across the country, placing many Americans in peril. It is true that volunteers are considered employees by the IRS for legal purposes, and if we are running on that premise alone then the companies are definitely facing dire circumstances when the administration allows the employer mandate to take effect.
However, there is something that insurance companies verify before adding new employees to an employer's insurance policy. Anyone that has changed employers in the past few decades at least can tell you that insurance companies do bother to ask if a new employee is eligible for coverage anywhere else, before adding that person to a policy. It is called "coordination of benefits", and it could be the saving grace for volunteer fire companies.
While it wouldn't release them from the legal requirement to offer insurance, it could save them from actually having to pay for it. Every fire company is associated with a municipality, and every municipality should already have some kind of employee health insurance policy in place. Volunteers at fire companies would simply have to fill out the paperwork to get insurance, but that wouldn't necessarily mean they would actually get it. The bills don't start until human beings are actually added to the policy, so this wouldn't cost anyone anything, as long as no one ends up getting insurance. Conversely, if the municipalities have very good rates on their health insurance - better than the marketplaces - then maybe they would need to figure out a way to permit volunteers without insurance to pay the full premium.
The point is that while there are undoubtedly some volunteer fire fighters out there without health insurance, many of them are already covered either individually, or through another employer. Insurance companies do not add people that have other coverage as a general rule. Yes, ObamaCare could be a major problem for some volunteer fire companies, however it probably will not affect as many as some are thinking at this point. Before getting everyone upset about this issue, it is important to verify that it really will be a widespread problem, because it involves ensuring public safety. Also, if it isn't going to be as catastrophic as reports are suggesting at this point, then this would yet another manufactured crisis that the Obama administration can use to its own benefit, by "fixing" it, even if it really isn't a real problem in the first place. There are many problems with the ObamaCare law, and the system that is being used to implement it. Every day it seems, there is something new going wrong. In this case, it may be a matter of people getting nervous about something that really won't be a major problem.
Volunteer fire companies need to find out precisely how many uninsured members they have, and then determine how those people will end up getting insurance. If after they have exhausted all other options, they still have a significant number of volunteers that would need to be insured as their "employees", then they need to worry. But, until they've verified that information, it's not a good idea to get overly upset over the IRS calling volunteers employees.