Through the magic combination of Obamacare and the IRS, volunteer firefighters may be considered “employees,” and their volunteer fire departments may be forced to give them healthcare. Or pay penalties that would force them to shut down.

The International Association of Fire Chiefs has asked the Internal Revenue Service, which has partial oversight of the law, to clarify if current IRS treatment of volunteer firefighters as employees means their hose companies or towns must offer health insurance coverage or pay a penalty if they don’t.

The organization representing the fire chiefs has been working on the issue with the IRS and White House for months.

“It could be a huge deal,” said U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11, Hazleton, who is seeking clarification from the IRS. “In Pennsylvania, 97 percent of fire departments are fully or mostly volunteer firefighters. It’s the fourth highest amount in the country.”

So far, the IRS hasn’t decided what to do.

Efforts to reach spokesmen for the IRS were unsuccessful.

One would think that since volunteer firefighters aren’t paid, usually belong to small fire departments that operate on a shoestring and don’t work more than 29 hours per week fighting fires, Obamacare wouldn’t touch them. But the IRS considers all volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel to be employees. So the IRS could well rule that they must be extended healthcare, or their fire departments face penalties. The IRS hasn’t decided if it’s going to continue that thinking applied to Obamacare.

If it does, then volunteer fire departments will face a world of hurt. They could go away, leaving rural communities vulnerable.

Volunteer firefighters are not employees. I have some passing experience with volunteer fire departments, since my father founded one in a small town when I was a kid. The firefighters all had full-time jobs or owned their own businesses. They didn’t work for the fire department and weren’t even close to full-time employees for the purpose of fighting fires. They might have fought a fire once a month in a busy time. They volunteered to fight fires, trained once in a while, and when there was a fire to fight in or near town, they were right there to fight it. While they weren’t the busiest fire department on earth, they were extremely important to the town — the largest nearby city was twenty miles and a crowded interstate away. Even closer, smaller cities were too far away to be much help if a grass or house fire threatened a neighborhood. Texas gets hot and dry in the summer. Even small grass fires can become a very big deal in a hurry. The town supported the department as much as it could, with a simple building and so forth, but the fire department depended on the volunteerism and donations to exist. It mainly obtained its gear and trucks through donations from larger nearby cities that had bought newer gear and trucks  – they would donate the older stuff that still functioned to our town’s volunteer fire department.

Obamacare could destroy all this, leaving small and even some larger towns vulnerable to disasters. Given just how President Obama embodies that special combination of arrogance, stupidity, and totalitarianism, it might.

By the way, we’re not just talking about volunteer fire departments here. Many fire departments in larger cities accept volunteers, too. Obamacare may end that — having the effect of creating more distance between citizens and those who serve and protect us.

h/t Jim Geraghty