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Upcoming health care changes affect part-time firefighters

By Scott Harrison
Published On: May 03 2013 08:55:05 PM CDT

Smaller departments struggle with upcoming requirement to provide health insurance.

FOUNTAIN, Colo. -

The Fountain Fire Department may be the first in southern Colorado to react to effects of the federal Affordable Health Care Act.

The act, nicknamed "Obamacare," will next year require employers to provide health insurance for part-time employees who work 30 or more hours a week.  Many smaller fire departments operate on tight budgets and may be unable to afford the extra expense.

Fountain Fire Chief Darin Anstine revealed on Friday that his six part-time firefighters are now limited to working no more than 29 hours a week to avoid the federal requirement. 

"This is something that's not a good thing because it's going to reduce the workforce we have," said Anstine.  "Now I'm fighting a fire with six fewer people because I can't bring them in and pay them.  It affects everyone -- the people we're trying to save, and the property we're trying to save."

Anstine said providing health insurance for the six part-time firefighters would cost Fountain around $60,000.

Fountain also has 28 full-time and 50 volunteer firefighters.  However, Anstine said most of the volunteers work other jobs and are only available on nights and weekends.  He said he uses the part-time firefighters during the day.

Anstine said fire departments smaller than Fountain may have a more difficult time trying to understand the effects of the federal health act  because they don't have personnel or human resource departments that can study the issue.

Larry Sykes, a homeowner in Fountain, said the situation concerns him.

"It's too bad Obamacare has this side effect," he said.  "We need those firefighters.  Sit down and come up with a solution."

Representatives of other local small fire departments said they're in varying stages of studying how the health care act affects them.

Black Forest, Falcon and Tri-Lakes/Monument are three more area departments with part-time firefighters.

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