The inner workings of Arcata Fire Protection District’s lucrative MOU, or, How You’re Getting Screwed

Last week,THC looked into how the Arcata Fire Protection District has a curious habit of promoting a shit-ton of their employees to Officer positions: Arcata Fire swells top-heavy ranks; their money rolls in right out of your pockets!

If you go back and look at the ratio of Officers to Firefighters, it seems pretty clear that there is a tendency to over-promote firefighters to officers beyond what the mandated need is, which of course leads to higher salaries, higher pensions, more firefighters being hired to replace those who are promoted, etc.

Per the request of one of our readers (who, like most of you, was apparently and understandably too lazy to read through the AFPD Memorandum of Understanding that we linked), we have taken it upon ourselves to highlight some of the particulars of the contract that are highly favorable to the  employee but, cumulatively, do a real number on the pocket books of those paying for them.

So, first on the list: Holidays!

While some may argue that a lot of firefighters’ time is a holiday, seeing as how they are paid to eat and sleep, it will further infuriate them how many paid holidays are provided for in the AFPD MOU. Per Article 14(Page 22) of the MOU, safety employees working 24 hour shifts receive 8 “floating” holidays per year, which can either be used or cashed in for money at straight pay.

Safety employees working 40 hour weeks receive 5 “floating” holidays with the same financial perks, but also get an additional 11 days off when the office is closed for traditional holidays.

Next up: Vacations!

What’s better than a vacation? Even more vacations! The AFPD MOU seems to take this maxim to heart. Cue the chart:

vacationWe’ll tie vacations, holidays, and the amount of time worked on a normal schedule together in a moment, but first let’s talk about sick days!

Sick Days: surprisingly, the sick days aren’t all that forgiving in this case. AFPD safety employees get 12-hours of paid sick leave per month. However, per Item 3 of Article 16, “There shall be on limitation on the accrual of unused sick leave.”

Total Days Off: So, all told, if you add up the minimum number of days off guaranteed to safety personnel, you’ll find they have a minimum of 11 for 24-hour shifters, and 30 for those working 40-hour weeks. At the opposite end of the spectrum, 24-hour shifters receive 22 days off, and 40-hour workers receive 44.

Which both seem like a lot. However, you’re blood will really start to boil when you consider how many paid days off are given to beneficiaries of the AFPD MOU and compound that with taking at a look at how many days 24-hour shifters are actually working per period.

Hours of Work: Per Article  (Page 9) of the MOU, “Fire district employees shall be assigned eight (8) work shifts within each 24-day FLSA cycle. This provision is not a guarantee of 56 hours of work per week.”

Meaning that, for every 24 days, firefighters are working a third of them. One third! If you take into consideration that anything above that is paid out at an additional overtime rate of 1 1/2 times their normal salary, you can see how quickly compensation can stack up beyond regular salary. And yes, let us assure you that overtime is being paid regularly to the majority of firefighters – as you can see at TransparentCalifornia, and as reflected in the MOU, which mandates that firefighters are to be paid over time.

Oh, as for their salaries…Cue the Salaries!

salaryThe salaries are nice, but pay attention to the Items D, and E. D says that employees will receive nearly automatic raises after both their first and second year, which means they’ve maxed out the normal-salary earning potential for their position in just 24 months.

Item E states that each firefighter is entitled to being paid at an overtime rate every single 24 day work period. The MOU does not say that firefighters may, or might, or could get paid overtime  – but that overtime work is built into their damn salary.

How’s that for a racket?

Lastly, to touch on our point from last week regarding the staffing levels at AFPD being a wee bit heavy on higher ranking officers, we found an interesting tidbit in the MOU as well.  We were talking last weekend about how the AFPD seemed intent on getting the officer to firefighter ratio as close to 50/50 as possible, and, well, we weren’t wrong.

As per Article 10, Item C of the MOU (page 16), “The District shall maintain a minimum of 18 career employees; which will consist of nine (9) Fire Officers and nine (9) Firefighter positions.”

So the only codified requirement for staffing levels is that, at minimum employment, 50% of the workforce is comprised of Officers.

Which, as we hope you know, is completely bonkers.

THC points all of this out to make a point – by manipulating the numerous ways in which AFPD employees are able to be compensated, the tax payer is taking a massive hit. To compound the guaranteed overtime in salaries is the increasingly generous paid off-time granted to employees of higher rank and longer tenure. The more captains and officers the department has, the more need there is for lower-level firefighters to fill the void left by all the off-days available to the higher-ups.

Next time the Fire Districts start coming around with the collection plate, keep all of this information in mind. There is a glut of money being thrown at overly-generous contracts and shysty retirement plans that are completely unsustainable for the local and state economy.

Rather than raising taxes, perhaps it’s time for the Fire Districts to start examining ways to restructure their departments and to begin prioritizing service over promotions and paydays.

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8 Responses to The inner workings of Arcata Fire Protection District’s lucrative MOU, or, How You’re Getting Screwed

  1. Shocked says:

    Shocking to say the least.

    What abou Humboldt Bay Fire?


    • Shocked, we’re on it. We also think it’d be interesting to contrast the EPD’s MOU with the Fire District’s MOU – we have an inkling that it will be shocking to see how much better firefighters have it than peace officers.


  2. Mac Towner says:

    This is incredible. I think the Arcata Fire Board should run for Stupidvisor they’d fit right in. Seems like a Sundberg family trait is to give away lots of other peoples money. I’ve got nothing against Native Americans but examples like this do make one wonder if government handouts create a sense of entitlement that caries over to policy making. Actually knowing what it takes to make a living with no free rides or extra advantages might make these idiots a little slower to waste our tax dollars.


  3. Azalea Mom says:

    I haven’t had time to visit this site for a while. I’m really disappointed in our elected officials. I just don’t understand how they can let this kind of out of control spending continue. Thank you for keeping the public informed. Most of us are too busy with our families to pay attention to all these details but look what happens when we look away.


  4. Old timer says:

    As a past payroll clerk for a fire department, let me clarify the requirement for paid overtime. It is mandated in the Fair Labor Standards Act that firefighters be paid 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for any hours worked over 56 in a week. Departments can choose the length of work period ranging from 7 days to 28 days, but still have to pay for hours in excess of 56/week, This is from memory, so the days might be slightly different. Most departments have a provision to include equivilant pay for time worked in excess of 56 hours per week, as a regular part of their pay. Keep in mind that a firefighter normally works 3-4 24 hour shifts per week. That is 72-96 hours per week. Divide their normal salary by the hours and you will see that their hourly equivelant is not that high. Our department had a difficult time affording the overtime payments that are required by federal law. So don’t blame the employees, nor the agency. They are only doing what they have to do, and it is very lucrative for the firefighters. I am not saying it is right, but it is the law.


    • wish you were here says:

      It might be mandated, but you know what? When they’re sitting around at the firehouse half of their shift playing Xbox, polishing their hoses for the 8 time today, or they don’t like the new money gifted for a commercial kitchen in favor of expensive catering of lunch every day, then I really don’t care how much you want to tweak the numbers.

      Start cutting staff. They AFD really isn’t that busy at all to justify the number of people on the payroll. Certainly not what they do with their time and all the free money handed to them from various sources. And why yes, I and many others have been to the AFD firehouse many times. We see a lot of goofing around by guys with God-complexes.


  5. Lynn Mae says:

    Is there a report available to show all the actual responses by the Arcata Fire Department? I mean real fires, responses for accidents, like that. Public service attendance (schools, etc) would seem to be something that could be scheduled by management so they wouldn’t need overtime for that. It just seems to me that with all the data provided, there should also be PROOF of what all those people are accomplishing.
    I know there’s a lot of exchange work between various fire departments; do they ‘volunteer’ or is it a set practice that FD A goes to support FD B (and so on). If it’s volunteering it could seem that Arcata tax payers are paying for more than their share of ‘co-operation’.

    I remember someone talking about work done by FS personnel in Six Rivers. There was a job which required one person to accomplish it at the various FS campgrounds. But some regulation required that two people drive there, and since two people require a supervisor, it would take three over-qualified people to do something simple. That was some time ago but it does sound like government over-planning and over-paying.


  6. Scroty says:

    While I’m no fan of unions and even less of a fan of the Arcata Fire union, let me clarify one item. The requirement for 9 “officers” (Article 10, item C) is specific to the fire engine crews covered by the MOU and allows Management to put a firefighter (lower rank and pay) in charge of the engine for a temporary pay increase, SAVING money. Facts do matter. Don’t believe everything you hear from a Bakersfield used-car salesman!

    Liked by 1 person

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