GLEN ELLYN – For more than 100 years, the Glen Ellyn Volunteer Fire Company has been a way for residents to protect and serve their community on a volunteer basis.
However, local and national leaders say that legacy is in danger from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which calls for volunteer companies to count their firefighters as full-time employees, causing costs for those agencies to skyrocket.
U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton, has been part of a legislative effort to remove that requirement from volunteer fire companies. Roskam held a press conference Friday with Glen Ellyn officials at the village's downtown fire station to discuss House of Representatives bill 3979, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act.
"It says these are volunteers. They are not to be characterized as employees," Roskam said. "Therefore, this additional burden on taxpayers is not to be triggered."
The bill has passed the House's Ways and Means Committee. Roskam said he hopes the bill will reach the House floor and then be taken up by the U.S. Senate before heading to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.
Financial issues are not new to the Glen Ellyn Volunteer Fire Company.
In December, the Glen Ellyn Village Board of Trustees approved the addition of a fee to residents' water bills beginning in May that will provide its volunteer firefighters with a reliable source of funding.
In the past, a majority of financial support for the fire company had come from donations through its annual fund drive, but that method has left the agency with aging trucks and an inability to replace them.
The fee is expected to generate $873,876 for the fire company in 2014-15, according to village records.
"These men and women in our community put their life on the line every day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for no compensation," Village President Alex Demos said. "... As a village, we have pledged 100-percent support to maintain this elite group and allow them to continue the tradition of service."
The requirement placed on volunteer fire companies in the Affordable Care Act would have been "devastating" for Glen Ellyn and its fire department, Demos said.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government has seen the need to support fire organizations through various programs and grants, said Glen Ellyn Volunteer Fire Company Chief Jim Bodony, adding that he hopes "this nation never loses sight of what a valuable asset our volunteer firefighters are."