Fire board: 'Huge shift' in compensation policy?


Are firefighters overpaid? In negotiating pay packages, should fire districts consider only what other fire departments are paying, or the pay and employment levels in the general economy as well?

The Board of Directors of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District is weighing these questions as it prepares to adopt what a board member calls a "huge shift" in its employee compensation policy and philosophy.

Under the proposed policy, the board might survey both private and public employers and take into consideration "the perspectives of the community" -- as well as labor and management -- in evaluating pay fairness.

"The District shall consider the overall economic climate and condition affecting the District and its constituents when setting compensation levels, including regional economic indicators such as the rate of unemployment, inflation, current and projected revenues, and the District's anticipated ability to pay in the long term."

Board member Peter Carpenter is urging the public to participate in discussions on changing the district's compensation philosophy. He encourages people to come to the board meeting Tuesday night, July 19, when the board will discuss and may adopt the policy.

The public session is expected to start about 7 p.m. at the Station 1 classroom at 300 Middlefield Road in Menlo Park.

Negotiations between the board and the union representing the firefighters have been contentious since the contract expired in 2008. In April, the board imposed terms on the union, and is getting ready for another round of negotiations.

Click here to see the text of the proposed and existing policies, and posts on the Town Square forum.

Public comments on this proposal may be emailed to the clerk of the board, Deanna Riding, at

The fire district encompasses Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto, and nearby unincorporated areas.

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Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 17, 2011 at 11:03 pm

What they should consider is the interest of the average citizen. That is, the compensation should be as little as possible commensurate with attracting qualified applicants.

So set a low wage and only bump it up if you can't hire qualified people. No need to look at other fire departments, survey the community, etc.

I anticipate that if the FD offered minimum wage the line would still be out the block.

Like this comment
Posted by Roy Desoto
a resident of another community
on Jul 18, 2011 at 6:19 am

Joseph E. Davis is correct. State Prison inmates often work on fire crews as part of their sentence. That would make convicted felons "qualified candidates" (by virtue of their training and work experience). They would gladly work for minimum wage. The principles do not define the minimum qualifications.

The principles will drive the agency toward mediocrity, by establishing a bunch of rules which hamstring the agency employees -- specifically around the hiring of new firefighters.

The Board needs to look at itself in the mirror. They need to ask why are they enacting these principles to tighten compensation and entitlements when they take them too. The Board members are entitled to participate in the union's cushy medical plan! The MPFPD foots the bill. And, that's on top of the other perks which include badges, scanner installation, and turnout gear. Giving starts at home.

The real problem is the Fire District, over time, has expanded its mission to use all of the funds they get through property taxes. It's a big slice of the pie. They get over $30 million each year to operate a FD for Atherton, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, and pockets of unincorporated area. They get 17% of the pie and their community governments get roughly 10%.

The more useful set of principles would be ones which define the MPFPD's mission in a way which allows them to use less than the $30 million they receive. Though, given public sentiment, it's more fashionable to bash the firefighters.

Like this comment
Posted by Poster
a resident of another community
on Jul 18, 2011 at 7:32 am

There is another thread on this topic: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Adam Smith
a resident of another community
on Jul 18, 2011 at 12:10 pm

I think the min wage comment was non-sequitur. You would not get lines around the block. The point is that hundreds apply for an FD opening, so clearly compensation could be reduced such that you get 5 qualified applicants per opening. It is not a vacuum such that either side can unilaterally set pay rates.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 18, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Is this what a "race to the bottom" looks like?

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 18, 2011 at 12:49 pm

This is neither a race to the top or a race to the bottom, but a move towards a rational compensation policy which reflects the economic realities of the communities which the Fire District serves and which respects the taxpayers who support the Fire District.

Like this comment
Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 18, 2011 at 2:29 pm

They make too much.

Like this comment
Posted by W Patterson
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 18, 2011 at 5:46 pm

The politics regarding the employment of fire fighters is profound.
Perhaps one should look towards THOR CONSTRUCTION COMPANY on the Beltramo property where this is a fire fighter run and owned business. This company uses the fire fighting symbol in their signage. Where does this all end. Surely the public is so tired of being screwed by the fire district. They wave the flag, show pictures of their captain,s head through the top of the roof of a house, beat the drums how important and brave they are. A Captain in the Army confronting combat on a daily basis does not come close to the third year fire fighter in compensation and retirment. Scary enough. Try fighter pilots who spend four years in college, a minimum of two years in flight training, and years of continuous training, does not come close to a fire inspectors pay. What is wrong with this picture. They both volunteer. Let the fire fighter enjoy their BBQ.

Like this comment
Posted by Roy Desoto
a resident of another community
on Jul 19, 2011 at 6:23 am

Bwlow is a link to an interesting story about the Taj Majals the district is about to build. The old stations no longer accomodate the increased staff and larger trucks. Could this be because of the increased mission? Bloat??

Millions are about to be spent to replace fire stations. The Board has been buying residential parcels adjacent to existing stations to make room for the palaces.

[Portion removed due to promoting a website]

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 19, 2011 at 6:58 am

Read the entire story and I think that you will find Roy's glib characterization to be ill founded:

"four of its aging stations will be upgraded to meet a host of modern safety standards.

“Fire Stations typically have a life expectancy of 40 years and four of the District’s seven Fire Stations are over 50 years of age and need to be updated,” said Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman"

Roy - please explain your interests and your qualifications to be making such sweeping judgements.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 19, 2011 at 9:19 pm

After hearing numerous public comments in support of this policy and also being told by union representatives that the Fire Board is precluded by law from adopting such a policy without first conferring with the unions (a position that the Fire Board's Counsel advised was without legal basis) the Fire Board adopted this policy by a unanimous vote.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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