SL 60001.655 Volunteer Firefighters
When a firefighter receives compensation, that compensation is wages and is subject to FICA taxes, unless an exclusion applies. It does not matter whether the workers are called “volunteers.” Any worker who receives compensation for services performed subject to the will and control of an employer is a common-law employee. If the worker is a common law employee, the amounts paid, whether in cash or some other form, are subject to withholding. Volunteer firefighters are generally considered employees of the fire departments or fire districts for which they perform their services.
Firefighters who are on call and work regularly but intermittently do not qualify for the emergency exclusion under Section 218(c) (6) of the Act, even if their work involves situations that may be considered emergencies. This exclusion applies only to services of an employee who was hired because of an unforeseen emergency to do work in connection with that emergency on a temporary basis (e.g., an individual hired to battle a major forest fire or to provide emergency assistance in other similar disasters such as volcano eruption, severe ice storm, earthquake and flood).
While volunteer firefighters may not receive wages, they may receive remuneration intended to reimburse them for expenses. Expense reimbursements (whether cash, in-kind benefits, or tax exemptions) paid to firefighters must be made under an accountable plan. According to Internal Revenue Code section 62(c), an accountable plan must:
require firefighters to substantiate actual business expenses,
allow no reimbursements for unsubstantiated expenses, and
require that any amounts received that exceed substantiated expenses be returned with a reasonable period.
Any amounts paid for reimbursement that do not meet these conditions are considered made under a nonaccountable plan and are treated as wages. Therefore, a per diem amount that does not reimburse actual, documented expenses is subject to Social Security and Medicare. It does not matter whether the amount is paid as reimbursements, a per diem, or under a point system.