By Sabrina Eaton, Plain Dealer Washington Reporter 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday acted to alleviateconcerns by emergency service workers nationwide by declaring the federal government won’t count “bona fide” volunteer fire and ambulance personnel as full-timers when it decides which employers must provide health insurance for workers under the Affordable Care Act.

Volunteer fire and ambulance squads in Ohio and around the country worried the new law’s employer mandate would force them to insure their volunteers — most of whom already have insurance through their full-time jobs — or block their volunteers from working 30 hours a week, the law’s threshold for labeling workers as full time.

Assistant Treasury Secretary Mark J. Mazur posted a blog item on the Treasury Department’s website on Friday afternoon that said upcoming regulations on employers’ responsibility to provide insurance for workers “will not require volunteer hours of bona fide volunteer firefighters and volunteer emergency medical personnel at governmental or tax-exempt organizations to be counted when determining full-time employees (or full-time equivalents.”

He said the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service got numerous comments from lawmakers, and local fire and Emergency Medical Service departments that rely on volunteers when it sought feedback on proposed regulations on the employer shared responsibility provisions of the Affordable Care Act in December 2012.

“The comments generally suggested that the employer responsibility rules should not count volunteer hours of nominally compensated volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel in determining full-time employees (or full-time equivalents),” he said.

Mazur said the Treasury Department soon intends to issue more complete final regulations, that will “provide timely guidance for the volunteer emergency responder community.”

“We think this guidance strikes the appropriate balance in the treatment provided to traditional full-time emergency responder employees, bona fide volunteers, and to our Nation’s first responder units, many of which rely heavily on volunteers,” Mazur said.

Dave Finger, director of government relations for the National Volunteer Fire Council, which represents state fire and rescue organizations around the country, called the decision “great news.”

“It looks like they’ve addressed the issue in exactly the way we asked them to,” said Finger. “We are obviously going to wait and see what the final regulatory language looks like to be certain. It seems like they got the message that we were trying to send them and that Congress was trying to send them.”

A bipartisan group of Congress members last month proposed legislation that would ensure the Affordable Care Act doesn’t count emergency service volunteers as full-time employees. Russell Township Republican Rep. Dave Joyce said he plans to pursue the bill’s passage despite the Treasury Department’s statement.

“This is good news for our local fire departments, but I continue to believe the best way to protect them is by making the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act law,” said Joyce.