With six new firefighters hired by the Menlo Park Fire Protection District this year, and the addition of four to six more planned early next year, the district has approved a special pay package for one of its firefighters to take on a training captain assignment.
District officials -- saying that attracting an internal candidate for the 40-hour-a-week job could prove difficult since district firefighters are compensated for working 56-hour weeks and can receive substantial overtime pay --agreed to an unusual pay package: continue to pay the training captain at a 56-hour-a-week rate for working 40 hours a week.
The special agreement with the firefighters' union that the fire board approved in July gives the training captain an additional 10 percent pay bump for taking on extra responsibility.
A similar temporary agreement has been in place for the past year, without the 10 percent pay increase.
The training captain earns overtime for hours worked beyond 40 a week and continues to accrue paid time off as if he were working 56 hours a week.
For the past year the position has been filled by Captain Tom Ellis, who will continue in the position. The agreement says the holder of the position -- which includes writing lesson plans, developing tests, and giving training -- must compete against other applicants every two years.
The arrangement means the training captain receives a raise for working 16 fewer hours a week than he did before taking on the job. Captain Ellis will receive $278,527 in salary and benefits before overtime (which he can work on his days off) and payouts for unused vacation and sick leave, according to the staff report on the agreement.
Fire board member Chuck Bernstein, who cast the only vote against the agreement at the July 18 meeting, said he feels the arrangement turns the district's rationale for highly compensating firefighters because of the dangers of their jobs "on its head."
After the July 18 meeting, Chief Harold Schapelhouman said moving "from a 56-hour to a 40-hour schedule isn't a windfall for the employee." Instead he said, it is "more work (and) additional responsibility with less practical opportunity to work additional hours" of overtime. "Only someone who aspires to organizational improvement and a higher degree of involvement and personal fulfillment will even apply," he said.
Most of the district's 40-hour-a-week employees work Monday through Thursday; the district offices are closed on Fridays. Those who work 56-hour weeks work two 24-hour days on, followed by four days off.
Board president Peter Carpenter said the district needs ways to motivate employees to move from a firefighters' schedule to four 10-hour days a week. "It totally transforms their commute," he said. "It's two very different lifestyles."
Deputy Fire Chief Don Long said firefighters who move to 40-hour jobs, usually because of promotions, often lower their compensation because they lose opportunities to work as much overtime.
But Mr. Bernstein said that was one of his problems with the position. "I think we have a problem when overtime becomes an entitlement," he said.
District officials say the position has existed for the past year under a provision in the current union contract that allows limited "interim assignments.
The agreement says the training captain will be a non-exempt employee (eligible for overtime) who will "work a 40 hour per week schedule" but will "continue to be paid as a 56-hour employees (sic)."
The agreement will expire if not made part of a new union contract after the current agreement expires June 30, 2018.