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Firefighters deserve high pay, chief says

 

Related story: Cause for alarm? How Menlo Park fire district pays its employees.

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Firefighters, says Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman, deserve to be well paid.

"We see the best and the worst circumstances that happen to people," said the chief, a former firefighter.

When kids come in to tour a fire station, "those are great days," he said.

On other days, though, firefighters must respond to situations such as the one in February 2105, when a woman was killed when her car was hit by a train.

"The firefighters are the ones who have to extricate those victims," Chief Schapelhouman said. "It's a huge responsibility."

"We get paid to do the dirty work," he said.

Firefighters have a risky job, the chief said, even when what they are doing isn't responding to a fire. Firefighters get called when a car goes into a ditch, when a tree falls or, even, when a cat is stuck in a tree. Several years ago, he said, a firefighter was injured when a cat being rescued jumped on the firefighter's face and he fell off a 14-foot ladder.

The district serves Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto and some adjacent unincorporated areas with about 100,000 residents. Statistics from 2016 aren't in, the chief said, but in 2015 the district received 8457 emergency calls, with 187 of them for fires, and 5,532 for medical assistance.

Every firefighter also has medical training of at least emergency medical technician level.

The district, fire board president Peter Carpenter said, "protects lives and property and it does it 24/7 without regard to the economic circumstances of the citizens we're serving," he said. "We don't ask questions; we provide service."

The district also works to prevent fires. "We'd much rather prevent a fire than put one out," Mr. Carpenter said.

He said the district has three firefighters who could retire at 90 percent of their current pay, but choose to keep working because they enjoy their jobs, making only 10 percent more than if retired.

Some of them might even be eligible for disability, he said, meaning "they may actually make more money if they retire than if they continue to work."

Comments

17 people like this
Posted by Invisible Hand
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jan 17, 2017 at 1:03 pm

One way to gauge compensation is to examine the supply/demand at these compensation rates. When a new career position opens up, how many quality, qualified applicants do you get? Do positions sit open for months with nobody responding? Do 5 apply, 10, 50, 100, 500? I had a deep appreciation for the profession, but at some point you need to have a discussion about how much salary is excessive.


18 people like this
Posted by Planners Wanted
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jan 17, 2017 at 1:10 pm

And the job doesn't even require planning skills, such as planning ahead and bringing a sack of groceries to last a couple days at work.

After all, you don't plan ahead when you do your weekly shopping, do you? Oh, wait...


18 people like this
Posted by Too Much $
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 17, 2017 at 1:37 pm

Right! I never understood the argument that unless they compensate at $300,000 a year, firefighters can't afford the housing. Somehow new teachers manage. In fact, nearly every other Menlo Park employee finds a way to manage. Why is it that firefighters are uniquely disadvantaged when it comes to finding housing?


14 people like this
Posted by Willows Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 17, 2017 at 2:38 pm

these arguments for THE TOP salary in the ENTIRE STATE are so weak. 'A cat being rescued from a tree jumped on his face and caused him to fall off of a ladder' Is this the Onion?


5 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Bestor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 17, 2017 at 2:44 pm

Personally, I simply hope that we have the best firefighters on the planet. I appreciate that they risk their lives and health to protect us. And I would rather have a small number of highly trained (and continuously trained) personnel, rather than a larger number (who would require more equipment to ride around on, requiring more new fire stations, and more parking outside Safeway. [Joke. The last bit.])

But I don't appoint myself qualified to make the decision. Like most citizens, I can only trust that the publicly elected Board -- with its clearly competing opinions -- will do its best to choose the right course.


7 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 17, 2017 at 4:24 pm

They don't need more parking at Safeway, they park in the fire lane anyway.

Joking aside, They need to be paid a fair salary commensurate with the skills required and the level of risk. What I have seen in previous articles the current pay is excessive. One person in the comments talks about Firefighters able to afford to live here, but how many do? What percentage of current firefighters live within the boundary of the Menlo Park Fire Protection district? How many within 25 miles of Menlo Park? How many live out in the valley 1 to 2 hours drive away and only drive in to work their long shift then head back for several days off? Those will be zero help in the event of a catastrophic emergency like an earthquake.

I don't think we need the "best Firefighters on the planet" because we don't have the same challenges as say New York would have or other places with special training needs. We need highly trained firefighters who are good at what they do, something I think we currently have. Now we just have to pay them a "Fair and competitive salary".


15 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 17, 2017 at 7:07 pm

Do you realize that many of MPFD employees make more money than most if not all of the governors in the US and more than 4 star generals?

Web Link

They may be "the best"but where is the salary cap? And is the CA retirement system funded for all the public folks in the system?

So based on the Chief's quote -- they deserve high pay, but how much is too high?


11 people like this
Posted by Seriously?
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 17, 2017 at 7:41 pm

It's really crazy when you compare the chief's pay to the chiefs of major cities like SF.


11 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 18, 2017 at 7:18 am

Interesting numbers according to Transparent California for 2015 fire chief's regular pay (rounded):

San Diego - $156,000
San Francisco - $303,000
Los Angeles - $291,000
Sacramento (city) - $176,000
Oakland - $217,000
Sacramento Metro Fire Dist. - $235,000
Orange County Fire Authority - $255,000
Truckee Fire Dist - $163,000

Menlo Park Fire - $217,000

San Diego and Sacramento are both larger cities and pay their chief less; Oakland pays its chief the same as Menlo Park.

Just out of curiosity, how much does a fire fighter in Manhattan earn?


5 people like this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2017 at 8:55 pm

I first would like to say you all have great comments and concerns. The idea a firefighter making an honest wage brings on differing opinion based on your belief of what an honest wage is. I would like to shed some light. I agree with the chief firefighters see and deal with circumstances that most people would vomit or couldn't fulfill their duties due to what they see or smell. The unfortunate circumstances. Firefighters are quickly growing in a category most want to ignore SUICIDE. Supply and demand another great question do you want the best protecting you and your loved ones. The demand is high is to find that special person to fill a retirement willing to lay down his life for a perfect stranger, and have abiity to learn to be the best and do their job with honor and courage and devotion to his duties. The one post mentioning we don't need the best. I disagree any community should want the best wether it's a firefighter or law enforcement. The best make quick decisions and decisions are based on is this good for the community is this good for the department, is this good for city. I want to end with this. The times have changed and years ago firefighters weren't faced with demands that are in our present day society. Paramedics for example when you do call for help it's a minimum standard anymore to have paramedics,minimum two years of training and hazardous materials the major freeways anymore don't just have cars and pick ups driving on them. The freeways are filled with vehicles traveling with chemicals that can kill you. there are now laws and standards and requires equipment and training to safely and extinguish fires. The wildland fires are a profession all in itself and when those fires start who is assisting firefighters from all over. The fire dept and law enforcement also become counselors and have been at someone side who may have wanted to commit suicide. The point I'm getting at is the firefighter profession has changed and while the fire service has adapted to meet these challenges. I believe it doesn't get mentioned. The profession is humbling and while you won't see firefighters talk about what they do on a routine basis to plead their case for pay raise. I believe you need to go down talk to them find out what they do, what kind of education they have, it might surprise you to see how many of them are very educated and have excelled in their profession and ask yourself again why would you not want the best for your city. I believe it will surprise many of you about what we do and if you consider the many Hats we wear. I believe you can always call 911 and someone picks up the phone what other profession has a live voice to listen to your crisis and send a crew over to help and you don't have to make an appointment a month from now just saying. I too chose this profession and have met me lol park firefighters and what I know I applaud the chief for stepping up and saying his firefighters deserve their pay. I believe if you took the time to make a statement then you owe it to yourself to go down and talk to them and find out for yourself what a Big Bang for your buck your getting.


3 people like this
Posted by Roxanne Rorapaugh
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 20, 2017 at 12:02 pm

I could not agree more with Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman, our firefighters deserve to be well paid and I am happy to hear that we do pay them well for the area. Considering the physical demands of their jobs, it is also important to have health and retirement benefits for them. Paying overtime is only right.. Our firefighters are skilled professionals with medical training as well.

On Dec 17, 2015, my husband fell and broke his hip. The Fire department was the first to respond to our 911 call. Not only did they know exactly how to tend to my husband and prepare him for transport to the emergency room by an ambulance, every member of the fire team was so kind, calm, professional and caring that I will never forget how lucky I am to live in a place where there are people who will help you when you call. My husband had a long journey ahead to recover from his injury, but the help we received from those firefighters got us started out the right way. I can not quite express my gratitude for this.

Also, less dramatically, several months ago on a Friday night our furnace would not turn off. A new thermostat had been installed that day, but the installers were not available. I was afraid that the furnace would just keep getting hotter and hotter, and it was old, so maybe even explode. I called the fire department, they came over and to look at it and finally had to turn off the gas to the furnace (which I had no idea how to do). We replaced the furnace shortly thereafter. I felt a little foolish, but the firefighters were so nice and professional it made me appreciate again that we could get help when needed. Also, the action may have prevented a fire from starting.

I know from experience that our firefighters are not only professionals, and brave, but kind and caring. We are lucky to have them. This is an expensive area to live in, but a big fire of just a few houses cost several millions of dollars and possibly end in deaths or injuries that we can not put a price on. We should not be cheap when it comes to what are some of the most important people in our community.

Thank you Menlo Park Firefighters.

Sincerely
Roxie Rorapaugh
885 Sherman Ave
Menlo Park


3 people like this
Posted by Still Waiting
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 27, 2017 at 8:23 am

I already posted this on Barbara Wood's article but have recevied no answer so I will try here. It’s been a week now. Has the Fire District shared the compensation study with the Almanac? What did it say?


3 people like this
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Jan 27, 2017 at 10:10 am

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

I have again requested the compensation study, but have not yet received a response. You can see the salaries of firefighters in other cities at TransparentCalifornia and PublicPay.gov. Here's a link to Palo Alto fire department: Web Link
Here's a link to Redwood City - Web Link
Here's San Francisco Web Link

Here's San Jose

Web Link

And just for an interesting comparison, here's New York City's own website on possible firefighter salaries, including overtime:

Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Still Waiting
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 27, 2017 at 11:04 am

Thank you Ms Wood...seems like the Fire Department is not complying with community requests, thank you for doing so.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 7, 2017 at 8:34 pm

I prefer to think of firefighters as heroes, not as pirates which is the case in our town. Given the kind of compensation they receive, it is clearly not subject to market forces and the commission that sets their salaries has abdicated its responsibility to work in the public's best interest. Our fire fighters are no longer public servants, we are their servants going to work every day getting paid market wages and paying taxes to support their sinecures. The situation is deplorable.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 7, 2017 at 8:41 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Resident:

do you know what comparable bay area fire fighter salaries are?


2 people like this
Posted by Big Daddy
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 8, 2017 at 3:22 pm

My son is talented at math now completing AP Calculus BC in 8th grade. I am encouraging him to avoid a STEM career. Silicon Valley starts age discriminating against programmers at age 30, replacing them with H1-B's, offshoring their jobs, and colluding (as Apple did with Google) to suppress their salaries. Why would I want my son to earn $130K, but only for 10 years, at which point he'll be asked to step down after training his H1-B replacement... when he could become a fireman, earn $200 - $300K, for 20 years and then retire with a full pension?


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 8, 2017 at 4:05 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Big Daddy - Encourage your son to do well in math and science - he will need good grades in those to gain acceptance in the required two year Fire Science program.

Encourage your son to become a physical fitness nut - nothing will disqualify him faster than not being able to pass the entry level PT exam. And nothing will lose the respect of his fellow firefighters faster than their doubts about his ability to rescue them from a smoke filled structure.

Encourage your son become a qualified Paramedic - an arduous year plus effort - without which he will not even get past the initial screening process.

Encourage your son to be involved in team activities - doing well, even surviving, his firefighter probationary year will require a level of selflessness than few young people possess.

And take great pride if your son ever takes the firefighter's Oath of Office - for at that moment he will pledge to always risk his life in order to protect the lives of others.


1 person likes this
Posted by Zephyrab
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Apr 18, 2017 at 2:12 pm

Zephyrab is a registered user.

One question, to which I haven't received a good answer- Why do FF's, due to union mandates and minimum quotas, make overtime pay while they're at home watching tv or sleeping- Most tax paying citizens don't know about the unscrupulous demands of these FF Unions ???


1 person likes this
Posted by Zephyrab
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Apr 18, 2017 at 2:32 pm

Zephyrab is a registered user.

People- This is a mess due to one word- Union. The FF 's unions have been negotiating with people not qualified and they've been giving the store to these guys. Per the Washington Post, since 1986 there's 58.6% fewer fires and 49% more FF's !!
Their union is among the worst at dealing honarably with the taxpayer. Most FF are nice guys, but they don't deserve this kind of money. In Menlo alone there's 14 FF making over $299K !! They get whole home sleeping per union negotiated quotas. This is outrageous- Put up a fight against these waste.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda

on Sep 25, 2017 at 6:47 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


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

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