Fahs asks board to modify proposed pay schedule

Chairman inclined to approve salary schedule as proposed

By MIKE ANTHONY

The president of Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters last week asked the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors to consider granting a pay increase to “straight-line” firefighters and paramedics.

Under a proposed salary schedule unveiled Dec. 17, pay for straight-line firefighters and paramedics would be frozen for three years. On Dec. 23, Local 1889 President Nick Fahs asked the Board of Directors to consider granting a $500 pay increase to those firefighters and paramedics.

The Board of Directors was scheduled to consider approval of the three-year salary schedule Wednesday — after the Call went to press. The board planned to meet at 5 p.m. in the conference room of the district’s headquarters at 11020 Mueller Road, Green Park.

Board Chairman Aaron Hilmer discussed the salary proposal Dec. 17, noting it had been formulated by Administrative Chief Fire Officer Tim White and Chief Jim Silvernail with some input from him.

White outlined the proposed salary schedule for 2010 through 2012 on Dec. 17, saying it was needed to correct a system that is “broken.” One goal of the proposed salary schedule, he said, is to increase captains’ pay to a level “that matches their managerial responsibilities.”

Another goal of the pay structure is to provide incentive as employees take on more responsibility and move up the career ladder, White said, noting while some employees would receive a raise and others would not, no one would experience a pay cut.

“… The first concern for us is the not everybody getting something. That’s kind of what we’d like to address with you,” Fahs said at the Dec. 23 board meeting, citing the straight-line firefighters and paramedics who would not receive a pay increase under the proposed salary schedule.

Hilmer asked Fahs, “… What do they represent, about 7 percent of our workforce?”

Fahs said, “Yeah, we’re really talking about 19 people that are straight-line firefighters and straight-line paramedics … I hope that the chief and you guys came to this under the premise that we deserve some type of an increase …”

As an example, Fahs cited Doug Weck, a straight-line paramedic, who “does a lot. He’s a lieutenant. He makes a tremendous amount of decisions … He makes life-changing, lifesaving decisions and my only contention is I understand that there’s no line for lieutenants (in the proposed salary schedule) here and we are moving, but they deserve something.

“And I don’t want to complicate this. I don’t want to muddy the whole thing, but — and I’ll just throw a number out there. I mean you can call it negotiation or whatever, but if you just gave them $500. It’s $9,500 to the district and I’m more afraid of the statement that you’re making if you tell someone we’re giving the vast majority of the people here a raise, but this small group we’re not. Because I happen to work with an engine company that has a straight-line firefighter and an engineer. So two of the three of us will get a raise. The one won’t and he’s a good employee. He’s going to come to work whether he gets something or not and this is not going to change him, but I think this is on the verge of making a statement that I don’t necessarily think you want to make …,” Fahs said.

“I’m just asking you please consider for $9,500, maybe the statement is everybody’s going to get something. It’s not going to be as much as everybody else, but we don’t want anybody that’s gone eight years to go three more … (without a raise),” he added.

Weck discussed some of the responsibilities of the lieutenants and straight-line paramedics, noting new employees most often are assigned to them for training.

“… The majority of lieutenants and the straight paramedics are the ones when we do get the new hirees, that’s where the new hirees are placed, either with the straight paramedic or lieutenant because one, most of them have by far the vast majority of experience in the field … As you know, reading and learning in a book and taking the test is one thing, but getting out there and getting your hands dirty doing the job is a little bit different …,” he said.

“All the brand-new employees that we hire, the first three rotations they do are on an ambulance and they’re always with someone who is a straight paramedic typically to instill that experience ..,” Weck said, adding straight-line firefighters also are responsible for teaching new employees how to use the equipment.

“… It’s the drivers who typically do that and take them under their wing and show them the truck, how to work the truck,” he said. “And those guys, the ones that we’re leaning on to train most of the — pretty much to do almost all the training as far as hands-on stuff that we do here at the department, are the ones that are not getting any raise, anything. And they do a lot of work …”

Hilmer and board Treasurer Bonnie Stegman took no action on Fahs’ request. Board Secretary Ed Ryan was absent from the Dec. 23 meeting.

During an interview with the Call, Hilmer said he is inclined to approve the pay schedule as originally proposed.

“… I think one thing that kind of got mixed up here was some people are construing this as some people are ‘getting a raise’ and ‘some aren’t.’ This has nothing to do with a raise or a pay increase,” he said. “While some are getting a pay increase, this is setting a salary schedule — one that is 100-percent based on market dynamics. We looked around at other fire districts. We looked around in the private sector. All this salary schedule does is reflect the marketplace. So it’s not a statement of someone’s not doing their job well enough or they are. If you’re not doing your job well enough, there’s other things in place that will relieve you of your job … This is purely based on what the market is going for for these certain positions.”

Avenues currently exist for district employees to increase their pay, Hilmer said.

“… For anyone who would say: Well, I’m not going to see a pay increase in the next three years, everybody has a clear path to a pay increase. They can go for further education, which we’ll help them out with,” he said. “They can become cross-certified as a firefighter-paramedic, which we’ll help them out with. That’s why we’re doing this. It creates a career path and if someone wants to sit there and stagnate, well then their salary’s going to stagnate. But if they want to do what the rest of the private sector does to move forward, then there is incentive for them to do that.

“Another thing I’ll point out and certainly this isn’t trying to dredge up the past, I think it’s been well talked about, but the harsh reality is this situation is here because Mr. Fahs and his associates hand picked the previous members of the fire board and the administration. They’re the ones who were 30 years behind the times by not having dual-trained employees.

“Chief Silvernail, when he was at Metro West but it was known as Ballwin at the time, in 1981 started cross-training employees. So if they would have been pro-active back then, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. We are just aligning things for the future,” the board chairman said.