Apr 26, 2013 7:19 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News
The Five Cities Fire Authority is tackling how to handle the impact of the Affordable Care Act on the department.
They currently have 22 firefighters on staff, but 18 of those are reserve firefighters.
They work just over 30 hours a week, so the department has not had to pay for their health benefits, but under Obama Care, that will change on June 1st.
The department will be forced to pick up the tab, meaning hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional costs or they'll have to cut the size of their crews.
"The reserve firefighters are an integral part of the firefighting force," said Fire Chief Joel Aranaz.
But those men and women, who put their lives on the line every day, are caught in a debate that could affect their lives off the clock.
"We show up on people's worst day, and we just do all that we can to make it a little bit better," said Jerame James, a reserve firefighter.
Jerame James has been with Five Cities Fire since October.
He says he's worried about the current situation.
"It's more than myself. I got a family at home who relies on me," said James.
That's because the city will have to decide whether to pay for health benefits, which is costly; cut staff, which limits the department's effectiveness; or cut staffing hours, leaving many to struggle to pay bills or put food on the dinner table.
"The answer to keeping everybody under 30 hours a week is to hire more reserves," said Aranaz. "But there is a finite number of reserves, like I say, we're not the only department in the county using reserves, we compete with other departments for the use of those reserves."
"It can have a huge impact on the department, on the community and how we're able to serve the community, and obviously on myself and my family and every other family in this reserve program," said James.
The law would also require the department to pay those health benefits for two years.
So even if an employee leaves after six months, the department is still on the hook for the remaining year and a half.
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