Union officials in Pueblo City, Colorado are sounding the alarm over the city’s decision to temporarily close engine companies while firefighters assigned to those rigs attend paramedic school. According to KOAA, News channel 5, nine city firefighters are currently attending paramedic school during their normally assigned work shifts. The department has structured the training so that only one engine company, consisting of 3 firefighters, is out of service at any given time. However, according to union president Joey Gutierrez, this practice is increasing fire department response times to the detriment of residents and firefighters.
The city’s fire chief, Shawn Shelton counters that response times are still adequate and paying overtime to replace the firefighters attending training or paying the firefighters overtime to attend the training while off-duty is simply not an option. The fire department’s overtime budget cannot sustain the added costs for paying overtime to cover the medic training.
Chief Shelton is not alone in this dilemma. Fire departments across the country are facing these same budgetary issues on a daily basis. Balancing the advantages of offering advanced training for firefighters with associated personnel costs can be an enormous challenge. Very often the cost of the actual training program is dwarfed by the overtime costs for personnel in attendance.
As a general rule, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and Department of Labor (DOL) regulations mandate compensation for work-related training. However, as is often the case, there are some unique options only available for public agency employers that can lift compensability requirements for some specific specialized work-related trainings. For example, the regulations found at 29 C.F.R. §553.226 (b)(1) offer the following:
(b) While time spent in attending training required by an employer is normally considered compensable hours of work, following are situations where time spent by employees of State and local governments in required training is considered to be noncompensable:
(1) Attendance outside of regular working hours at specialized or follow-up training, which is required by law for certification of public and private sector employees within a particular governmental jurisdiction (e.g., certification of public and private emergency rescue workers), does not constitute compensable hours of work for public employees within that jurisdiction and subordinate jurisdictions.
Whether this regulation could be an option for your organization would require more research. Additionally, the FLSA is only part of this analysis, collective bargaining agreements or local wage and hour laws may require compensating firefighters for all the hours spent at these specialized trainings, even though the FLSA does not require it.
The compensability of training is one of many topics covered in-depth at all of the FLSA for Fire Departments seminars. Please consider joining us.
Here is more on story from KOAA, News 5.