The Norman Transcript

Headlines

January 6, 2014

Law leaves system in limbo

FREEPORT, Maine — Fire chiefs and lawmakers are working to protect the system of volunteer firefighting that has served rural America for more than a century but is threatened by an ambiguity in President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Small and rural fire departments from California to Maine, which has one of the country’s highest percentages of volunteer and on-call firefighters, rely on volunteers to avoid the budget-strapping cost of paying them to be on duty in between fighting fires.

The volunteers are considered employees for tax purposes, a classification that grew out of an ongoing effort to attract firefighters by offering them such incentives as stipends, retirement benefits and free gym memberships.

That leaves open the question of whether the volunteer firefighters fall under the health care law’s requirement that employers with 50 or more employees working at least 30 hours a week must provide health insurance for them. Fire departments say they can’t afford to pay such a cost.

“Most of these are operating on a shoestring budget — holding pancake dinners to raise money to put enough gas in the truck so they can respond to the next fire, the next medical call,” said Dave Finger, director of government relations for the National Volunteer Fire Council.

Faced with the cost of insurance, or being fined if they fail to provide it, departments would likely be forced to reduce the number of hours firefighters can volunteer or eliminate the benefit programs, officials said.

That has both fire chiefs and lawmakers raising concerns.

Darrel Fournier, fire chief in Freeport, a town of about 8,000 people near the coast in southern Maine that’s home to L.L. Bean, said his department is bracing for what could be significant costs under the health care law. He expects he’ll have to provide coverage for the five firefighters he employs part time. That would cost the city — and ultimately taxpayers — about $75,000, or a penalty of $150,000.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Headlines
  • Oklahoma City Memorial Bombing museum gets tech boost

    OKLAHOMA CITY — A memorial and museum built to remember the worst act of domestic terrorism on American soil is in the midst of a $7 million upgrade so it can better portray how different the world was when Timothy McVeigh blew up the ...

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Is Okla. backing off accountability?

    One by one, K-12 education reforms passed in previous years by Oklahoma lawmakers are being targeted for weakening or repeal....

    April 19, 2014

  • Hope Trunk travels to Norman

    The rustle of paper could be heard as students meticulously folded one crane, then another and another Friday afternoon. After reading the inspiring story, “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes,” Cleveland Elementary School fifth graders ...

    April 19, 2014

  • Congressman Cole reflects on recovery

    Congressman Tom Cole’s home in Moore was not hit by the May 20 tornado but it came pretty close. His wife has made it clear she wants a saferoom, he said. In a visit to the Transcript on Friday afternoon, Cole talked about tornado ...

    April 19, 2014

  • Gaylord to get $35,000 grant for poverty project

    A team from Gaylord College is among the first winners in a national competition to fund innovative news experiments that serve communities, the Online News Association has announced....

    April 19, 2014

  • U.S. puts off pipeline decision

    WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is putting off its decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, likely until after the November elections, by extending its review of the controversial project indefinitely....

    April 19, 2014

  • Garage sale to benefit Team Jamie’s Crew set

    A garage sale to benefit Team Jamie’s Crew will start at 9 a.m. today at 1510 Melrose Drive....

    April 19, 2014

  • Sonic plans expansion

    OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma-based Sonic Corp. plans to open 1,000 new drive-in restaurants nationwide over the next 10 years, expanding the chain by about 30 percent, the company said....

    April 19, 2014

  • Singing Sooners show set

    The University of Oklahoma School of Music presents the Singing Sooners Spring Show at 8 p.m. Friday, April 25 in the Sharp Concert Hall, Catlett Music Center. Jim Graves and Stephen Ziegler serve as directors for the group....

    April 19, 2014

  • Study: Half of jailed youths have injury

    NEW YORK — About half of all 16- to 18-year-olds coming into New York City’s jails say they had a traumatic brain injury before being incarcerated, most caused by assaults, according to a new study that’s the latest in a growing body of ...

    April 19, 2014