There's new incentive for employees of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District to stay near the action. According to the fire district's new salary agreements, firefighters and other fire district employees will receive a monthly stipend if they live within a certain distance of the Menlo Park fire station at 170 Middlefield Road.
The new plan offers four tiers of a monthly stipend to support employees seeking to live closer to their workplace.
Support staff of the AFSCME Union and confidential employees are eligible for $100 per month and up to $250 by 2018 for living within 30 miles of the district.
Fifty-three of the district's 75 firefighters, engineers and captains belonging to the IAFF union are eligible for $200 per month and up to $300 by 2018 for living within 60 miles of the district.
Chief officers on 56-hour shifts and 40-hour work schedules who live within 30 miles of the Middlefield Road station will earn an extra $600 per month.
Chief officers on the 40-hour work schedule who live within 20 miles of the district are eligible for $800 per month, and those within 10 miles can earn an extra $1,000 per month.
Firefighters are often scheduled to be on duty for 56 consecutive hours, and then take four days off. On that schedule, firefighters can live longer distances away in cheaper locales than they could if they had a daily commute to and from the fire station.
According to Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman, "Rents and home prices are at an all-time high and traffic into and out of the region is ridiculous."
Some firefighters who live far away sometimes drive to the station the night before their shift, he said, occupying the few beds designated for on-shift staff. Otherwise, they would have to arrive very early in the morning for their shifts.
In addition, he said, frequent evening meetings with various city councils and municipal agencies take a toll on employees who have farther to commute after a long day.
One way the fire district has coped with rising housing costs and the need to have employees nearby has been by purchasing and maintaining a house next to the Oak Grove Avenue station, on Hoover Street, where chief officers can spend the bulk of their weeks. However, that solution seemed impractical for all of the fire district's 110 employees.
The stipend, he said, is similar to that of other corporations, such as Facebook, which, it was recently reported by Reuters, has as part of its employee benefits program a relocation stipend for living within 10 miles of the campus. "It's not a novelty idea," he said.
In short, Mr. Schapelhouman said, "We are fortunate enough to live in an area with a robust economy, but as first responders and as a dynamic public safety organization that must quickly deal with emergencies and community and employee needs we need to try a keep all of our people close by just in case."