Questions were raised regarding the stipend pay of firefighters by a local fire chief to the city council last week.
Park Hills Fire Chief Brad Weiss spoke before the council last Tuesday during their work session in order to discuss a pay discrepancy that a member of the department had noticed about three weeks earlier.
Although Park Hills Fire Department is made up of volunteer firefighters, they receive a stipend, or a fixed sum of money, for their time on a call-to-call basis.
Weiss said that after going through the call totals that the department had responded to versus the reports that he received from city hall regarding payroll, he had noticed 17 firefighters, including himself, were missing pay for responding to structure fires. Weiss then said that he could show the council how the fire department was previously paid and that at some point recently, this pay structure was changed without notification.
City attorney Ed Pultz stated that it was his understanding that this change was made in order to be in compliance with the current stipend pay ordinance.
Weiss made the case that the ordinance contradicts the Standard Operating Guidelines (SOG) saying, “…The rest of the ordinance, besides stating being on-scene says [to] comply with SOGs but our SOGs don’t allow for all the members to leave town when we have a mutual aid call. So in the same sentence, it’s contradictive…”
The current guidelines that the department operates under were written in 1999.
The ordinance, passed in October of 2017, regarding the pay structure of the fire department states that firefighters shall receive payments per calls as follows: “$25 for structure fires, $15 for vehicular or brush fires, and $7 for all other calls, including mutual aid standby, except that no firefighter shall receive payment for any call unless he or she reports to the incident and complies with all Standard Operating Guidelines. All officers and other firefighters shall receive payments for regular weekly meeting attendance of $5 for attending meetings and $5 for attending training sessions.”
The ordinance states that firefighters should get paid $7 for mutual aid standby but Weiss argued that the department’s response during some of these calls should have actually been considered a structure fire response and paid accordingly.
The concern that Weiss then raised was that this ordinance does not make a differentiation between call types and the duties performed by firefighters when responding to a call.
“When a fire truck rolls to a structure fire, that is a structure fire regardless of what duty was performed by that firefighter,” said Weiss.
Pultz gave his interpretation of the language written within the ordinance.
“…When it says, ‘reports to the incident,’ you tell me how that could mean being at the fire station?” he asked.
Weiss replied saying, “To me, that’s a continuation of the incident because we continue to put fire trucks in service at the station.”
He continued, “OK, I’ll just start a new call sheet when we get done with every call then if that’s what I need to do,” to which Pultz replied, “I don’t know [the] procedure, all I’m saying is you got to look at the ordinance.”
Pultz then said, “Just because something used to be a different way, if it violated the ordinance … you got to follow the ordinance. That’s what the mayor and the administrator and, I thought, the council would have at least acquiesced in…”
The fire chief mentioned that he knew of at least two specific instances in which the department responded to the scene of a structure fire under a mutual aid call type and firefighters involved were paid the structure fire amount. He made the argument that the firefighters should have been paid the $25 that the ordinance calls for when responding to structure fires.
City Mayor Daniel Naucke brought up the fact that the firefighters are to be paid according to what is stated in the ordinance above all.
He emphasized that until the board votes on ordinances changes, the city must abide by the ordinance no matter what.
“… If this board wants to change it, I don’t have a problem with it. My problem is, we have to go by what’s in the book. Everything we do … that’s what this book is for,” the mayor said.
Naucke stated that he was more than willing to sit down with Weiss, City Administrator Mark McFarland, and another member of the fire department in order to come up with an ordinance that would adequately address the concerns of the firefighters.
Two days after the meeting, McFarland said that he would be meeting with the mayor, fire chief, and assistant fire chief in the coming days to draft a revised ordinance that would hopefully satisfy all parties involved.
Bobby Radford is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3628, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.