El Dorado Hills Fire Department Fire Chief Defends Department Firefighter Pay

by Placerville Newswire / Dec 26, 2016 / comments

Below is a message from our Fire Chief Dave Roberts regarding Firefighter Compensation...

Dispelling The Myth About Firefighter Compensation

Many organizations throughout California, and even the media, continue to attack Firefighters in respect to their seemingly “lucrative” pay and benefits package. Unfortunately, these groups often use deceptively limited data to attempt to prove their point and illicit emotion and anger from their constituents. These groups will run through the State reported compensation data and pick out several Firefighters on the top of the list in an effort to prove their point. Unfortunately, looking at the total compensation for a Firefighter can often be very misleading if not presented with supplemental data, such as total hours worked 

In our case, El Dorado Hills Firefighters are regularly assigned to a three platoon 48/96 work schedule. On average, this equates to roughly 56 working hours per week. This is 40% more hours than the standard 40-hour workweek. The Fair Labor Standards Act requires overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 53 per week for safety employees on this work schedule. Therefore, a Firefighter’s regular work schedule is comprised of 53 hours of straight-time and 3 hours of overtime per week. Some have questioned, “Why don’t you run your three platoons in a day, swing, and graveyard shift schedule like the private sector does so that each will only be working 40 hours per week”? The answer to that is, “You are forgetting about the weekends and holidays”. We would need to hire an additional set of part-time Firefighters to cover those extra days on the weekends and holidays. To run a 24/7/365 operation, the schedule we have in place is the most efficient for both operations and fiscal responsibility.

In addition to the 56-hour work week built into a regular 48/96 schedule, additional overtime is required on a regular basis in order for the Fire Department to operate at its standard level of service. In most industries, business operations are not significantly impacted when temporary position vacancies arise due to sick, vacation, or work place injury leave. These positions are simply left vacant during their earned leave time. In the Fire/EMS service industry, vacant positions must be filled at all times in order to safely operate and provide the level of service that residents have come to expect. We cannot simply shut down a Fire Station when several members of our Department want to take their earned vacation time. When those temporary vacancies are filled, additional overtime is generated. Since these positions must be filled for the Department to continue operations, it is important for the public to understand that often, if no one is available to voluntarily accept the overtime assignment, Firefighters are forced to work these open slots since, for the benefit of our residents, we are required to keep all of our stations operational.

Additionally, we are a member of the State’s Master Mutual Aid System. Through the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, our Firefighters respond across the State either in a Strike Team or as a Single Resource to assist with the catastrophic events that often plague California. Many of our Firefighters are often out of the area and away from their families committed to these large incidents for several weeks at a time. This requires the Firefighters that are left back home to cover the vacancies created by these Firefighters being out of the area. While all of these extra hours are reported as total compensation for each Firefighter, the important thing to understand is that the majority of the costs associated with these types of incidents are reimbursed by the State and do not come out of the Department’s tax dollars. In 2015, El Dorado Hills Fire Department participated in 17 deployments for an additional 5,414 hours of overtime compensation on these State incidents themselves, and an additional 2,786 hours of overtime compensation covering the vacant positions at our home stations that were created by our participation in the State incidents. In 2015 for our participation in these large incidents, the State of California reimbursed the El Dorado Hills Fire Department a total of $770,000. It is also important for the public to understand that it is less expensive to fill temporary vacant positions with overtime as opposed to filling the positions with additional full-time employees.

So, what does all this add up to? In 2015, our Firefighters worked an average of 3,554 hours for the year. That is 71% more hours than a person working a regular 40-hour schedule would work in a year. Each safety employee worked an average of 642 hours of overtime during the year, or roughly 12 hours per week in addition to their regularly scheduled 56 hours. The average hourly rate for safety employees, including all overtime and incentive pay, was $39.69 per hour in 2015. This average rate also includes Deputy and Battalion Chiefs wages.

In summary, it is important to look at compensation data in the proper context. In this case, one cannot get an accurate picture of compensation without looking at the number of hours the employee worked to earn that compensation. Yes, some Firefighters earn a lot of money, BUT they had to work a significant amount of hours above and beyond their normal assignment to do so.

Please remember: While most Californians are home each evening or are able to enjoy holidays and weekends with their families, we are here 24/7/365 working to protect and assist you with whatever Fire or EMS emergency you may find yourself in.

David C. Roberts
Fire Chief Serving the Communities of El Dorado Hills, Rescue, and Latrobe

1050 Wilson Boulevard El Dorado Hills California 95762 Telephone (916) 933-6623 Fax (916) 933-5983 www.edhfire.com