Wednesday, March 7, 2012

**Special Post** Response to Anonymous' Comments Re: Firefighter Pay

I created this special post to address the comments made by Anonymous to one of my posts titled, "Here are the Facts about Guam Firefighter's Pay". This post and Anonymous' comments can be read here.

Here is the posted comments of Anonymous.... 

Hi there Mr. fire fighter.. well lets see here. How many fire stations are on Guam? Agat, Inarajan, Piti, Talofofo, Yona, Barragada, Tamuning, Dededo, and last Yigo. Wow that is a lot of fire men in all these stations responding to soooo many fires. In most states the size of our population, fire departments are voluntary. Now lets see how may police stations there are; Agat, Hagatna, Tamuning Dededo. Just four precincts with about four officers on duty, if your lucky. Some work 8 hour shifts and other 12 hour shifts, constantly responding to calls out there with very little pay nothing compared to your department. So don't make this fancy dancy website to justify your pay here on this little island. You guys should be ashamed or yourselves, you should all move towards a voluntary fire department and stop milking the tax payers.

Just Joe!!

Ok, so fair enough. And here is my response without going into too much detail....

Anonymous, first I want to thank you for your comments. I can respect anyone's point of view as that is one's right. That is what the constitution is all about. Having the freedoms to pray the way we want to, say the things we want to and protest and disagree whenever we want to without fear of repercussions from our government. Freedom of got to love it!!!

Secondly I want to thank you for reading my personal blog and responding to it. It shows that you are compassionate enough to read about issues and respond to those issues when you feel a need to. And that is what part of my blog is all about. Same as you... to respond to issues when I feel there is a need to.

But when you respond, please get your facts right. For one, the Guam Fire Department has 12 fire stations and 1 rescue station at the moment. You only accounted for 8 stations.

Two, you said that we respond to sooooo many fires. I know that you are being facetious with that statement. But you are right, over the course of a year we respond to quite a few fires, but a majority of our responses are medical emergencies. Our statistical percentages of our total emergency alarms indicate that about 70-75% of our total alarms are medical emergencies. We get in excess of 18,000 emergencies a year. This is statistically the same with the averages in the U.S. Mainland. These stats are kept by the National Fire Protection Association, better known as the NFPA. Here is the web site so you can do some more research. By all means, don't take my word on the matter.

Third, I would never compare us to Police anywhere. I used to be a police officer in the states. Two totally different jobs. We are all public safety brothers and I will always  be that way with our fellow officers in blue. Great job and a hard job and I respect them all for what they do. If they encounter hardships as you elude to and with which I agree, I would hope that those persons tasked with improving those services would do so. Our officers and our island residents deserve it.

Four, you wrote in most states the size of our population, fire departments are voluntary. Well, there is not one state with our population. I am thinking maybe you meant cities. Guam's population as per the latest U.S. 2010 Census is 159,358. If you research the U.S. 2010 census, for cities with populations similar to Guam, and I would say in the range of 155,000 to 165,000, you will find that all of those fire departments are paid full time departments.

You see most areas with large departments want a full time department if they can afford it because the response time is so much quicker because they have crews on duty. Volunteer departments are typically in the rural small town areas where there is a relatively small tax base and as such they cannot afford to pay for a full time department. And as you can imagine, when you have a volunteer department and you get an emergency call, they are not responding from a fire station. They are responding from their regular place of work. Now how long do you think it will take them to get to that emergency scene. Can you imagine if your mother was having a heart attack and you were waiting for those volunteers to arrive at her house and they were responding from their regular place of work. Or if there was a fire? Same long response time. But if that is the type of service that a majority of the people of Guam want, then so be it. It is up to the majority. 

But don't push something unless you have done a very thorough job of research. I have done an extensive amount of research and I can go on about where Guam is when you compare GFD with other jurisdictions in the states. And you would be hard pressed to even find a fire department serving a population that Guam has that protects 118 miles of coastline, hundreds of miles of aviation fuel pipelines, over 1 million visitors a year, 20 plus high rise hotels, over 4000 rooms, should I go on? 

And we don't have the other fire departments in our surrounding areas to help us out like they do in the states. We have the military. They help but not all the time because they have to protect their bases. We have Airport fire but they have to remain on the airport grounds per FAA. We are literally by ourselves. That is why every GFD firefighter holds so many certifications because we have to be ready, trained and equipped to handle just about everything that comes our way. We are a unique local with special problems that most other U.S. jurisdictions do not encounter in one location.

With regards to our pay, every year, Magazine, conducts a salary and response survey. Our emergency response activity is in the average or middle should I say, around the 50% of full time departments. But our pay for entry level firefighters is below the 2 percentile. We are substandard in pay. Not even close to being average.

What pay we are supposed to get, by law, we are not getting. But we still go to work everyday and give it our all.

Regarding you stating that I shouldn't make this fancy dancy website to justify our pay, well I didn't. I have about 66 different posts on my blog and only a few are actually about our pay and I wrote posts in response to issues brought up by Senators, other Government officials, etc. Kind of like you. See something and wanted to respond. Now I know you would not want to deny me the freedom of expression. I didn't do that to you though it was my liberty to post your response to this post. I could of just deleted your comments prior to posting but I didn't. I respect your right to expression.

You say we should be ashamed of ourselves. Why? We go to work. The rules and regs and laws say we are to be paid "X' amount of pay for the job that we said we would do. And all of that is in writing. We will get this pay for this work. Well we have been doing the work and much more and yet we are not getting the agreed upon pay and benefits. I am not ashamed. I am proud of the work that we do, plus more that we don't get paid for. But we are not slaves. I work, I get paid, same as you. Now if you want to volunteer that is fine, but I am sure even you have to work to make ends meet. And with all the push on education in order to get ahead, well that is what we have been doing for years. Going to school to get a better education so that we are not only more qualified to do a job but also to better our positions and pay. That is what work is all about.

Firefighters do a lot of community service. We teach CPR, First Aid, go to schools, belong to committees, we do a lot. But not everyone sees what we do, but yet there are a few people out there that are quick to point the finger at us and say we are greedy and we should be ashamed.

As I said, thank you for the visit to my blog and your comments. But before you point, know what you are talking about and do your research. Because I already have!!!! Just Joe!!!!

Until the next time....

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Perils of Leadership...Part 8

The Perils of Leadership: Making Chief is the Easy Part 
by Chief John Buckman

Here is the 8th and last installment of Chief John Buckman's Leadership Series.....


I believe the people we deal with can be divided into two categories: those who lift you up and those who pull you down. Don't we all know people who only open their mouth to deprecate someone else? 

Feel sorry for those poor souls. They tear down only to build themselves up. 

We must teach them by example that the greatest responsibility each of us has is to raise the life condition of everyone we touch. Encouragement breeds success; discouragement breeds contempt. No one can deny the law of cause and effect. Your subordinates and superiors will not think well of you unless you think well of yourself. You cannot think well of yourself unless you think well of others. 

Most negative people are only envious. If you malign people in the hopes that you will look better nothing but the opposite is true. You are actually degrading yourself and bringing misery to those around you. 

I have survived as a Fire Chief by maintaining a positive attitude about my life and my person. No one will tear that down as my opinion on those matters are the only ones that do matter. There are so many people out there that belittle others so that they might appear bigger. The sad fact is that those people only belittle themselves. I believe that I do what is right at the right time and in the right place. Do I make mistakes? Yes, I am human and as such I will make mistakes, but they are not for a lack of trying. I believe action requires one to make a mistake once in a while.

Well, as previously mentioned, this is the last of this series of articles on Leadership by Chief John Buckman.

I hope you were able to get something out of the series.

For more articles on Leadership, visit

Until next time....

Friday, September 9, 2011

Agat Fire/Rescue Field Day

Agat/Rescue #3 crew, l-r FFII JJ Cruz, Capt. Matt Poppe, FFII JP Sanchez, Lt. Jerry SN Barcinas, and Lt. JK Borja 

We all know that the Guam Fire Department has a lot of emergency alarm responsibilities.  We respond to structure fires, auto fires, wildland fires, medical emergencies, ambulance transports, hazardous materials, bomb threats, land rescues, sea rescues, typhoons, earthquakes......You name it and we respond to it whether it is an emergency or a non-emergency call for assistance. WE are THERE!!!

And what do we do in our "spare time". We train for all of those emergencies. We conduct inspections so that we can attempt to make structures safe by education and compliance. We go out to the the schools and give safety talks to the students, we help train school staff, and we donate a lot of time teaching first aid and CPR. We do a lot that most people don't realize. But that is OK because we know what we do. And above all of this, we maintain our stations as best as we can with the resources that we have. And those resources usually come out of our own pockets.

Here is one example that I am talking about. The other day, I was driving through the Agat Mariana and I happened upon the Fire/Rescue #3 crew outside conducting yard maintenance, or as we term it, "field day". Now we usually do this every Saturday at our stations, but during the rainy season, we do it whenever we get a "dry" day.

Here are some photos I took of the crew wrapping up their field day.....

Final touch up.

Picking up the "zacate".

Trimming the shrubbery.

Final look. 

Nice and clean. Great job guys!!!

You see, they don't just save lives, they have other skills as well!!!  HeHe.

Firefighters take pride in their work and their surroundings. But sometimes we are limited by the funding. And in cases like this where all the tools are brought in from home, we pay out of our own pockets. Gas, bushcutter whip, oil, etc. It all comes out of our pockets.

So the next time you pass by a fire station, a rescue station or other fire department building and notice something that needs fixing or upkeep, remember......don't think negative about the firefighters. Maybe we are just saving money from our family's pockets so that we can take care of those things at the station.

It's all from the heart!!!!

Until next time....

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bill 295....Polygraph for Fire Recruits. Is It Really Needed???

Senator Adolfo Palacios has authored Bill 295, which requires any person appointed as a Firefighter to undergo and pass a polygraph examination and a psychological examination, just to name a few of the potential requirements, as a condition of their employment. I can see a few problems with this already. But read the KUAM News story about this by reporter Nick Delgado....

Bill changes requirement at GFD, DOC

Posted: Sep 05, 2011 4:16 PMUpdated: Sep 05, 2011 6:15 PM
Guam - Controversy sparks over a pair of measures that seek to enhance the hiring requirements for the Guam Fire Department and Department of Corrections. Public Safety Oversight Chair Senator Adolpho Palacios wants current Department of Administration hiring requirements for fire fighters and corrections officers mandated.   
As a minimum qualification, Bills 295 and 296 would require all DepCor and GFD uniformed personnel submit to and pass a polygraph examination among other things. "It doesn't get amended unless we are involved and those have proven to be good standards and I don't think it would change it could only get better," said Palacios.
But GFD and DepCor officials wonder how it could get better, and are worried the measure would only make it more difficult for them to add to their already short staffed departments. DepCor spokesperson Lt. Antone Aguon and GFD Spokesperson Joey San Nicolas share the same concern, saying, "This bill intent is good but the issues we are concerned is of course the polygraph side of it, second we already have the POST Commission that is in the process of setting these standards and updating it. So this bill may be a little premature," he said.
"Specifically the polygraph and background investigation, we don't know what the cost to conduct those parts of the hiring process so and as it stands now we have no financial ability to support it should the law be enacted today," he added.
Palacios says the measure would put the two agencies in line with the Guam Police Department's minimum qualifications. He adds either way the POST Commission may have to review both measures, as they play a valuable role in setting the requirements for the island's law enforcement agencies.
Here is Bill 295.....

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

Page 4

Well what do you think? I personally think that this bill, though the intentions are good, is a little over the top for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, the function of employment qualifications is the responsibility of the Government of Guam Department of Administration, which works closely with the Civil Service Commission, as mandated by Guam law. And of course, as we all know, all the mandates start out in the Guam Legislature.

Secondly, though technically the Guam Legislature can do just about anything they want to do, this function is an  Executive Branch function. Therefore, unless specifically requested by the Executive Branch, the separation of powers between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch should be respected. There is a reason for those separation of powers.

Thirdly, the fire service on a national level, which includes Guam, already has established standards for all the firefighter positions. That is how firefighters, regardless of rank, obtain their National Certifications.

How much more will this cost and who is going to pay for these added costs? Administering a polygraph is not free. Typical charges vary. Here is one sight for reference. And then again, how much would a psychological examination cost and who would administer this? In any regard, these tests will definitely add to the expenses of an already cash-strapped government. A source for these added expenses should be identified within the legislation.

And my last point is that a firefighter is not appointed to the firefighter position until they have successfully completed the fire academy training. This means that they had already been hired as Fire Recruits and had undergone about 6 months of fire academy training. So if this bill, the way it is currently written, proposes to have all of these qualifications required once one is appointed as a firefighter, and that person or those persons do not pass one of the proposed requirements, the Government of Guam has just wasted 6 months of Fire Recruit salary, training and other Government expenditures. This amounts to a lot of money.

I propose that thorough research be done before this bill is place on the docket. A sloppy bill costs everyone a lot of money. This bill is obviously flawed and not necessary. We should expect better work out of an elected official.

If Senator Palacios wants to change the qualifications of any Government of Guam employee, he should work with the entities that are mandated to perform these functions.

Why is Senator Palacios trying to work against the very systems previous Guam Legislatures have help put in place? Does Senator Palacios want to take over all the HR (Human Resources) and Pay and Classifications duties for the Government of Guam??? Then step down as a Senator and put you application in for the job.

I wonder if that would require Senator Palacios to submit to and pass a polygraph and psychological examination? Do you think he would pass??? Who knows....

Until next time....

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Perils of Leadership...Part 7

The Perils of Leadership: Making Chief is the Easy Part 
by Chief John Buckman

Here is the 7th installment of Chief John Buckman's Leadership Series.....


Organizations fall out of favor when they fail to keep pace with their customers' changing needs. Once you reach an elite level of your profession, you must continually adapt to maintain or improve your position.

It is so much easier to hide among the pack instead of being the lead dog. When you are working toward that top spot, you are never satisfied. You are open to any changes that might improve your organization. You can evaluate yourself against the performance of whoever is running ahead of you.

When you finally reach “Number One,” you're all alone. There's nobody left to chase. So there's a temptation not to run quite as fast as before. You forget that the time to shift into overdrive is when you are the hunted not the hunter. You have to show some extra foot so the competition doesn't gain on you.

The top perch in any field carries a weighty responsibility. Once you attain it, everyone expects you to dominate your competition; you are supposed to be the best. Should your customers discover that your product or service is short of dazzling, they will shop elsewhere. A competitor may get away with selling them an inferior product because the customers come to it with lowered expectations. However, if you're “Number One,” no one will cut you that kind of slack.

But change usually fails when it is a response to panic. Always remember that no matter how well things are going, you can always improve something. Making voluntary changes now saves you from being forced to make mandatory changes later. However, never alter anything simply for the sake of doing something different. Any modifications you attempt must have clear, productive goals.

Next will be part 8 and the last part of Chief Buckman's Leadership Series, "SET THE EXAMPLE: LOOK UP!".

For more articles on Leadership, visit

So check back tomorrow.

Until next time....

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Perils of Leadership...Part 6

The Perils of Leadership: Making Chief is the Easy Part 
by Chief John Buckman

Here is the 6th installment of Chief John Buckman's Leadership Series.....


You will only succumb to stress if you are ill-prepared. All the hours spent in preparation will help you make it through your career. You can be just as cool and productive as anyone else in any situation if you approach your life with similar dedication. 

Every time you put a dollar in your savings account, you're making a sacrifice. Any mention of sacrifice reminds me of the story told about the gentlemen whose oil well caught fire. He put out an all-points bulletin for assistance. To ensure a heavy response, the oil baron also offered a $30,000 reward to whoever could quench the flames. All the large fire departments in the area sent help. They dispatched their best companies accompanied by their most modern fire fighting equipment. However, none of their trucks could get within 200 yards of the blaze. The heat was too intense. 

Finally, the Little Township Volunteer Fire Department appeared on the scene. 

They had only one rickety truck equipped with a single ladder, two buckets of water, three buckets of sand, and a blanket. It didn't even come with a hose. When that old truck reached the point where all the others had stopped, its driver didn't hesitate. He kept barreling ahead until he and his crew were on top of the blaze. Little Township volunteers leapt out of the truck, threw two buckets of water and three buckets of sand on the inferno and then beat the fire out with the blanket. 

That oil man was so impressed by this display of courage. He gave the driver $30,000 in cash on the spot and asked, "What are you and your men going to do with all that money?" 

The driver didn't hesitate. "The first thing we're going to do is get those gosh-darn brakes on that truck fixed." 

The lesson here is that not all sacrifices are voluntary. Sometimes circumstances force us to make them. However, in the long run, we're grateful we did.

Next will be part 7 of Chief Buckman's Leadership Series, "CHANGE: PROACTIVE IS BETTER THAN REACTIVE".

For more articles on Leadership, visit

So check back tomorrow.

Until next time....

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Perils of Leadership...Part 5

The Perils of Leadership: Making Chief is the Easy Part 
by Chief John Buckman

Here is the 5th installment of Chief John Buckman's Leadership Series.....


How do you maintain your personal enthusiasm? After you become chief, the stresses and the wear-and-tear can take its toll on even the most idealistic among us. Don't take your attitude for granted. Reevaluate yourself constantly to ensure you are maintaining your edge.

What should you do if you don't have a positive outlook? Find one. Instead of thinking "I can't," start saying "I can!" It takes just as much time and energy. If you are surrounded by a lot of negativists, think about putting some distance between yourself and them. Surround yourself with people who encourage rather than discourage. Remember, every day some ordinary person does something extraordinary. Today it's your turn! Take it!

We will always encounter crisis. Life is full of crises and if we realize that up- front and expect crises our attitude will be different when we confront those emergencies. Every person, group and department will face setbacks. It's not enough to overcome them. You must also learn from them. The great jazz musician Miles Davis once said, "Don't be afraid of failure. There is no such thing." I support that thinking. "Don't let what you don't have keep you from using what you do have."

All of us should adopt the attitude of the blind man who was being led down the street by a seeing eye dog. When they came to the corner of a busy intersection, the dog crossed against the light. The blind man had no choice but to follow. Cars swerved to avoid the blind man, drivers honked their horns and swore loudly. Somehow, the duo reached the other side unharmed. As they stopped on the corner, the blind man reached into his pocket pulled out a dog biscuit, and offered it to the reckless canine. Having just watched the two as they crossed, a bystander tapped the blind man on the shoulder and said, "Sir, that dog almost got you killed. The last thing you should do is give him a biscuit as a reward." The blind man smiled and said ."I'm not giving him a reward. I'm trying to find his mouth so I can kick him in the ass."

Whenever you find yourself moaning about some difficulty, remember that blind man. Give adversity a swift kick in the rear end. Drop the self-pity, throw out the crutches, trash the excuses. Do something positive. Welcome the most daunting challenges.

Next will be part 6 of Chief Buckman's Leadership Series, "SACRIFICE: VOLUNTARY OR INVOLUNTARY?".

For more articles on Leadership, visit

So check back tomorrow.

Until next time....

Leadership under Fire: Rowing with One Oar

Brought to you by

Leadership, like rowing, is done best through good technique rather than brute force
By Joseph L. Krueger and David F. Peterson, Contributors

Web Exclusive included with this article
Posted: Fri, 08/12/2011 - 08:00am
Updated: Fri, 08/12/2011 - 08:00am
Command and control has been the name of the fire service leadership game for decades, maybe even centuries. That is, when it comes to how decisions and directions are given at most fire departments, it is "my way or the highway" and "do as you are told" that flows from the higher ranking people down to the lower ranking people. In essence, this equates to rowing with only one oar in that efforts to move a fire department forward are minimal at best, sometimes things go round and round, and the decision-making process is wholly one-sided (we all know that many chiefs have been accused of only having one oar in the water!). It does not have to be that way and the modern, progressive fire department will find that rowing with two oars is by far easier, much more productive, and many times more empowering for all employees. Leadership is a lot like rowing in that it is done best through good technique rather than brute force. 

The act of rowing a boat is all about power, not as much in the sense of the physical action required as much as it is about motivating the workers who are doing the work. In this sense, "power" refers to the means available to leaders to move or motivate others in order to achieve organizational goals and objectives. Power, then, is all about influence and that goes back to our series definition of leadership. 

The traditional forms of power are called "positional" power and they include legitimate, coercive, and reward power. Legitimate power is found completely in the leader's position or rank in the organization. In other words, I will obey your orders because you are my superior officer. An example of this source of power in use would be when rank is the reason for someone acting on an order. Coercive power is used when a person is in position to inflict some type of harm on another person if a request is not honored. This can come in a number of different forms and actually be transferred both up and down the ranks. For example, a supervisor can administer sanctions such as corrective action or unattractive work assignment. Conversely, a subordinate can use coercive action towards a supervisor by badmouthing him amongst peers. Finally, reward power can also be used by higher-ups to reward a subordinate's behavior some way if an order is completed satisfactory. A payback for doing a task could be a promotion or pay raise. 

The problem with these positional sources of power is that, for the most part, they are all one-sided where the leader subjects the influence on the follower without any input. While the request may get accomplished, the follower, over time, will become resentful and most likely will develop waning loyalty. Positional power is not effective in the long-term and because it is one-sided it is also extremely inefficient as a leadership tool. 

Much more effective forms of power come from "personal" power sources such as expert and referent power. These forms of influence are developed through effective communication and relationship building over time. Expert power is born out of influencing others through personal knowledge and skills in a specific area – in other words, knowing your department and your job. People listen to those who are consistently demonstrating their subject matter expertise. Referent power is the natural attraction that people have to a charismatic leader. It is derived from treating people with respect and dignity and through consistent authentic and sincere relationships. Numerous studies verify that followers engage with leaders whom they like and trust. 

The trust component must not be overlooked! As trust takes time to develop between leaders and followers, it requires consistent attention, effective communication and above all, honesty, to accrue. Trust cannot be rushed and it is best when developed a little at a time. Trust is also a critical component of effective leadership because it is absolute. That is, trust is ether all or nothing. It is not so simple to say you can trust someone a little or even a lot. Trust is an intangible that is black or white: trust is either present in a relationship completely or it is not. And there is no such thing as leadership without trust, but, in the absence of trust, leadership becomes merely authority. 

In reflection of the personal power sources and their effectiveness, the best examples most likely can be found in your own experience. We'll bet that every fire service veteran can recall someone in their career who treated them with respect, took them under their wing, and shared their knowledge in order to serve as a mentor. Most likely fond memories have survived from those caring and trusting relationships. Trust is the secret ingredient of leadership and one component that is commonly ignored by far too many fire service leaders. Indeed, the modern fire service leader does well to foster and nurture trusting relationships through effective use of the personal power sources of expert and referent power. 

Whether a leader is rowing a boat or running a fire department, it is very inefficient to use one oar or rely on the old, staid approach of telling others what to do. Those old forms of position power are simply not effective in today's world at motivating and sustaining the best efforts of followers (quite frankly, even in the "old days," they weren't very effective!). A much better leadership approach is to use two oars by empowering followers to help with the rowing through the use of personal power and the development and nurturing of respectful and trusting relationships!

JOSEPH L. KRUEGER is a 31-year veteran of the fire service who is currently an assistant chief with the McHenry Township Fire Protection District in McHenry, IL. Joe has a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois-Chicago. He is also a graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. Joe also has extensive experience in leadership and management in the private sector and is a principal partner of White Helmet Innovations.
DAVID F. PETERSON is a 31-year veteran of the fire service who is currently an assistant chief with the Milton and Milton Township Fire Department in Milton, WI, and a fire officer with the City of Madison. Dave has a B.S. in fire service management from the University of Southern Illinois and is also a graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. Dave is a graduate student in leadership through Grand Canyon University's Ken Blanchard School of Business and is a principal partner of White Helmet Innovations. You can reach Krueger and Peterson by e-mail

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Here are the Facts about Guam Firefighter's Pay

Firefighter pay....Wow, where does one start to explain the pay of a firefighter or any other public safety "shift worker"? These are the class of employees that do not work the regular 8-5 with weekends off, 40 hours per week and 80 hour 2-week pay periods that are so typical of public sector and federal civil service employees. These are the employees that work all the other shifts. From 12 hour to 24 hour to 48 hour shifts. I even used to work a 5 day on and 2 days off shift when I worked for the California Division of Forestry. So you name the shift, and I am sure someone's worked it.

Firefighter's on Guam.....what is their shift? What is their pay? Why do they get paid what they do? Is their pay excessive? I will answer those questions here and it is up to you draw your own conclusions.

GFD Firefighter's Work Schedule

The GFD firefighter works 5 shifts of 24 hours each in one pay period. Each shift starts at 8 am one morning and we secure from work the following morning at 8 am. That is a total of 120 hours worked in a 14 day pay period. Our pay period, 14 days, is the same as all other Govt of Guam full-time employees. Most Gov Guam employees work 80 hours every 2 weeks and we work a minimum of 120 hours every 2 weeks. No equity there!!

So we work 5 shifts of 24 hours per pay period, 8 am to 8 am. We have two shifts that currently work. An "A" shift, or as we call it "platoon", works one 24 hour shift and they are relieved by the "B" shift/platoon that works the next 24 hour shift. That is how the work shift rotation operates.

Now the reason why we only work 5 shifts in a pay period, because there are really 7 shifts per platoon per pay period, has to do with paying overtime. Federal law mandates that firefighters that work a 14 day pay period, must be compensated at an overtime rate of time and one half of their regular hourly pay rate for all hours worked in excess of 106 hours. You didn't know that did you? 

Here is that Federal Law.....

This is the language.

This is the chart.

You were led to believe that this was a local law, right? And everyone was wondering why we are getting paid, every pay period, 14 hours overtime (120 hours minus the 106 hour threshold). That should have been explained in the Public Auditor's report. After all, that report went to great lengths to explain everything else. The only problem was that, when you really read the report, there are no real specifics such as the one I just explained to you. And the result of not explaining this properly is a distortion of the facts which led to the public's perception that firefighters are "ripping off the Government". It's like firefighters are crooks, the "bad guys". That could not be farther from the truth.

But anyway, because of the overtime, we are given 2 days off from our 7 shifts per pay period in order to minimize the payment of overtime. If this was not done, we would be working 7 shifts per pay period and our overtime hours, all those hours worked over 106, would be 62 hours per pay period rather than the current 14 hours. This overtime is termed "customary overtime" by the Federal Courts. This is overtime that is regularly scheduled every pay period. This is different from "periodic" overtime that is the most common. 

OK so now you know our work schedule.....we work from 8 am to 8 am, 5 work shifts of 24 hours each for a total of 120 hours per every 14 day pay period, with all hours worked over 106 paid at overtime rates.

What is Firefighter pay on Guam?

Base Pay- Well that pay is set by the pay scales of the Government of Guam's Department of Administration. They are tasked with many functions and one of those is setting and reviewing the pay scales of the employees of the Government of Guam. For more go to Compensation of Public Employees to view the pay scales and other Gov Guam pay incentives.

Since the Hay Study of 1990, which was implemented in 1991, the entry level firefighter I, was paid $10.28/hr. or $21,389/yr. That is the base pay. And when you calculate annual base pay, you just multiply the hourly rate by 2080hours. That is how many work hours in one year calculated at 40 hours per week for 52 weeks. This is also how the Federal Government also calculates base pay.

You can go to U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics web site to view the May 2010 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates for over 800 occupations. Click here. The national estimated average wage surveys are also listed there.

In 2008, 18 years later, this pay was finally increased due to Public Law 29-105, the Public Safety and Law Enforcement Pay Act. You remember that. This increased the pay by 40%, in 4 annual increments of a minimum of 10% each. We received 2 increments before the local Government reneged on this law. We only received 20%, one increment in 2008 and the other in 2009. This increased the entry level firefighter I pay to $12.34/hr. or 25,666.80/yr. This is where we are today. So every firefighter gets paid based on their pay range and grade according to the Gov Guam pay scale as any other Gov Guam Employee.

Now, other pays that we receive are:

Night differential- §6217. Night Differential Pay. All employees of the government of Guam, except the department or agency heads and the Deputy Directors, shall be entitled to night differential pay, calculated at the rate or their regular wage plus ten percent (10%), for all periods worked between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. SOURCE: § 4110.4; renumbered by P.L. 13-81; amended by P.L. 14-130; amended by P.L. 27-29:V:6. Amended by P.L. 28-068:V:5 (Sept. 30, 2005). Amended by P.L. 30-105:2 (Mar. 11, 2010). 

So we receive 10% of our hourly rate for the 12 evening hours that we work every shift. (5 shifts times 12 hours equals 60 hours of night differential per pay period).

Hazardous Pay- Though we are eligible for this, as is all Gov Guam employees, we do not receive hazardous pay. The law is being violated here by not paying us this pay. I am not saying that I agree with firefighters getting hazardous pay, because like many of you have stated, firefighters knew the job was dangerous when they applied, but the law is the law and it is illegal to discriminate. But the pay ranges for the Hazardous pay are variable and that document is available at the Department of Administration in Hagatna.

EMT Pay- § 6223. Firefighters - EMT-A Duty. Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, a Firefighter in the Guam Fire Department who performs work as an Emergency Medical Technician-Ambulance (EMT-A) and is a certified EMT-A shall be entitled to differential pay calculated at the rate of his or her regular wage plus fifteen percent (15%) for all periods he or she is assigned as an EMT-A and is a certified EMT-A.

SOURCE: Added by P.L. 19-52:10 as an uncodified section; codified by Compiler. Repealed by P.L. 28-62:5 (June 30, 2005). Restored by P.L. 28-068:II:2:18 (Sept. 30, 2005).

This pay is only paid out to the EMTs when actively assigned to Ambulance duties for that particular shift and the Advanced Life Support (ALS) personnel. No one else is authorized to receive this EMT pay. Keep in mind that all GFD firefighters are EMT certified and recertify every 2 years (Minumum 45 hours course attended on off-duty time). If any firefighter's certification lapses for any reason, they do not work on the Ambulance or receive any EMT pay until they are receritified. This happens time to time and mostly to our firefighters that are in the military reserves and guard when deployed. But they recertify upon their return.

Overtime- Every pay period, as previously mentioned, we work 120 hours ( 5 shifts times 24 hours each).

Local law mandates that we get paid for this overtime at a rate of time and one half. Here is that law as it is codified in the Guam Code Annotated...

All the previous versions of this law are listed in the "SOURCE" section on the end. You can review most of these public laws online so that you can read the intents, the submissions of testimony and the voting records by going to the Legislature web site here. Once there you can click the drop down menu button "Public Laws" and go to the pertinent Legislature, example 12th, 14th, or which ever you want depending on the law you want to look up. If you see P.L. 20-172, the "20" means the 20th Guam Legislature. Anyway, enough said.

Going back to the Firefighters Compensation Law, this mandates the rates of compensation. It is very clear. Every GFD firefighter, except the Fire Chief, shall be paid their regular hourly rate for all work up to 106 hours and at time and one half (overtime) their hourly rate for all hours worked over 106. I won't get into the Admin part because I am only addressing 24 hour schedules of firefighters.

Though I mentioned earlier what the federal law mandates and showed you one of the statutes, I would like to expand my points in this area. 

The Fair Labor Standards Act or also known as the FLSA controls most aspects of fair pay for labor. It is part of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). In particular to firefighters is CFR 29 Labor, Chapter 5, Wage and Hour Division, Part 553, Application of FLSA to Employees of State and Local Governments. You can read it all by clicking right here

Now the section that mandates when to pay the overtime is section 553.230. You can read this section by clicking here. It identifies the different hourly thresholds for paying overtime depending on the work period. For GFD, since we work a 14 day work period, we must be paid overtime for all hours over 106. You can see that the local statute mirrors the federal statute. As a matter of fact, even the "work period" is defined. You can read that here.....

Now I can attach AG's opinions, information and guidance papers on this topic that I have, but those are not really necessary for this post. But if you like to have a copy, email me and I will send it to you. You will find that I only act and talk about an issue when I have the "black and white".

As a special note, between 1987 and 2003, we worked 5 shifts of 24.5 hours for a total of 122.5 hours per pay period. During this time we were only paid for 106 hours of work. We did not get paid for that 16.5 hours worked per pay period over 106 because the GFD fire administration at that time said they were deducting for sleep time and meal time as per the FLSA.

Sometime in 1990, with the advent of the internet, we were able to research the FLSA laws. We found out that those deductions could only be applied if there was an agreement between the individual firefighters and management. There were no agreements and when we pressed the issue, Gov. Carl Gutierrez finally corrected this violation of federal law and authorized the payment of the overtime for all hours over 106. We were never compensated for all those back wages. It amounted to one large and costly sacrifice.

Why did I bring this up? I just wanted to show that GFD firefighters have been making sacrifices for many years. To the tune of about $30,000,000.00 in a 14 year period. What other Gov Guam agency or private sector company group of employees has made that type of sacrifice? The OPA didn't tell you about that either did she? I wonder why. That is part of the "big picture" when it comes to challenging the integrity of the GFD firefighter. When you start to paint a picture, you need to finish the whole picture before you unveil it. We need to be fair here. We have done more that our part. Is there equity yet?

OK everyone. I believe I have shown you the mandates for each pay category that we receive. You can see that we do not receive anything that is not allowed by law. And these types of pay are consistent with other fire departments across the country. Do your own research and see.

Now, we are going to start putting all this together and answer the big question. Are Guam Fire Department firefighters getting paid excessively?

Well, from my last blog post, "The Real Story about Firefighter's Leave", I showed you step by step that there is no non-productive pay, there is no bonus pay and as a matter of fact when a GFD firefighter goes on leave, they are typically shorted 14 hours of pay. If you didn't read about this or forgot, you can go back and read all about it. You will see that the real facts have been distorted in the OPA's report, in my opinion. "Non-productive pay" and "bonus pay", with regard to firefighters, are not tangible items whatsoever. They are simply words. That's it!!

But getting back to the "excessive pay" allegation. I just want to mention that when someone says that your pay is excessive, that term is not fact. The term "excessive" is an adjective, a personal view, a descriptive term that someone would use to describe something. It is a purely objective term. It is not a factual term. So the bottom line it is just an opinion. Look it up in the dictionary. But let us see if we can find anything that is excessive or based on any determinable basis of fact(s). So far I have explained to you our base pay and other special pays that firefighters are eligible for as per the law. No extra pay so far right?

So how do we stack up with other fire departments in the mainland. The reason why I am comparing us to other firefighters is to show the possibilities, if any, that may exist with inequities as stated by the OPA's report and also others in the media. We cannot very well compare us to an 80 hour employee as has the OPA. That is like comparing apples to oranges. We work 50% more hours than most Gov Guam employees. And we work "shift" work as described earlier. Can you really say that we can compare these two classes of employees on equal grounds? I think not. That is why we have to compare ourselves to other full time fire department employees.

Let us start by reviewing the demographics of our island and what firefighters have to protect and the special skills that we must have in order to accomplish our mission on this beautiful tropical island. I mean, your duties have a lot to do with how much you get paid, right?

First off, our island is roughly 212 square miles in size. It is bigger than the average city. We service an island population estimated at about 180,000 to 185,000. We are still waiting for the census to come out for Guam. We have over 1.2 million tourists a year. Hotels are listed at over 25 and many of these are what we would classify as 'high-rise" hotels. And these high rises are scattered throughout the island. The rooms available alone are over 6700. So these present considerable structural and life safety challenges for firefighters. We must protect about 120 miles of coastline. And you all know about the hazards our surrounding waters present to us. These have been well chronicled in the local media. We have hundreds of miles of fuel pipelines criss-crossing our island. This can get a little touchy during grass fire season. We've got industrial hazards, a commercial port to protect, an international airport, an average of 2 cars plus per family that results in many traffic accidents daily, slippery roads, you name it, we've got it. What I am trying to say here is that you would be hard pressed to find another place in the United States, with the population of Guam that has the demographics that we have. Just take a moment to try and think of any place that you have been that can compare.......................................

Ok, now that was hard, right? I can't think of any. And with all of this in mind, we are the only civilian fire department protecting everything outside of the military bases and our airport. We don't have all the help other stateside fire departments have. We are by ourselves. Yes we do receive help from time to time from the military, but their priority is their military bases. So we cannot count on them.

Getting over to the pay, as I mentioned before, our starting firefighter I pay is now $12.34/ or $25,666.80/yr. If you compare us to the most recent wage survey you will find that our starting firefighters, as compared to the surveys "Starting FF Pay" category, fall below the 2% level. There are only 5 other departments in this survey that are paid lower than our starting firefighters. And this is out of 287 U.S. fire departments surveyed. So are we "excessive" yet?

Here are the starting fire jobs in Hawaii. This is about as close as we can get to our demographics. Of course there is a large disparity regarding population and size. But this gives you an idea where we stand. Remember Hawaii has cities and towns (villages) of all sizes and response activity also. Just like Guam.

Hawaii Fire Job Categories and Pay

But this gives you an idea about the base pays. Just look at the Firefighter pay. The Hawaiian firefighter starts out a $4,027/mo. or $48,324 a year. That is almost double the starting firefighter pay here. And Hawaii has many more firefighting assets than Guam. You can check out their department here. It is truly amazing how many resources they have as compared to us.

You can also check the National Estimated Wage surveys from the U.S. Department of Labor that I mentioned earlier. Here are the average wages for all the Protective Services, where firefighters are classified. Protective Services Wage Information. You will find that our firefighter's base pay, 2080 hours, is well below the "National Averages". The OPA's firefighter pay figures, though we do not dispute the firefighter salaries as indicated, contain all the extra hours, incentive pays, overtime pay and holiday pays that firefighters at GFD were paid. I wonder if she included all those pays for other Gov Guam employees that she compared us to? Anyway you can obviously see it would be impossible to compare us on an equitable basis.

So I have shown you that our Guam Fire Department Firefighters are paid quite a bit less than the averages of other fire departments in the rest of the U.S. And remember, if you were to do further research on the special pays and incentive pays of those other departments, you will find pay for seniority, speaking other languages, education (degrees), special certifications such as Haz Mat Tech, Rescue Tech, etc. The list goes on. And though the GFD firefighters have many of those special certifications and additional education and degrees, we do not receive pay for those. So I ask again, is our pay really excessive? No I say. It is a good wage, but not excessive by the proper comparisons.

And guess what, we are not even the highest paid firefighters on Guam. That's right. The Federal firefighters on Anderson and the Navy work 144 hours and get paid 38 hours of overtime. 

So in comparison with other firefighters and fire departments in other jurisdictions, the figures speak for themselves.....we are not excessively paid. We are underpaid!!! And for the hazards and demo-graphical challenges that GFD firefighters face, we are grossly underpaid. But then again "grossly" is just an adjective right? It really doesn't mean anything....just like "excessive".

Until the next time....