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Firefighter compensation a concern

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by Nick Delgado

Guam - There seems to be some confusion over the compensation at the Guam Fire Department, after the Guam Office of Public Accountability raised concern about GFD firefighters getting paid during leave. While the issue is dependant upon a single opinion from the Guam Attorney General's Office, the fire department defends that they are only following the practices of the past.

"I'll get to the bottom of this," swore Senator Adolpho Palacios. "The people of Guam will know the extent of abuse of the compensation issue at the Guam Fire Department." The public safety oversight chairman says he is learning more on more about what he calls "a manipulation of the law" when it comes to compensation for local firefighters.

He recently met with the Guam OPA to discuss his concerns about uniformed firefighters assigned administrative duties at headquarters who are getting paid the same amount as the firefighters in the fire stations who work 24-hour shifts. He says the problem now is that the Guam OPA sent a pair of letters to the AG's Office more than six months ago seeking clarification that firefighters are getting paid a bonus while on leave.

He said, "This additional 61 hours of so called non-productive bonus pay to firefighters who are on leave to begin with is costing the people of Guam about a million dollars a year. Enough money to buy maybe three or four ambulances, enough money to buy personnel protective equipment and devices for the firefighters which they are lacking right now."

With no response yet from the AG's Office, Senator Palacios intervened and also sent a follow up letter questioning if the firefighters are entitled to the hours of non-productive leave when on leave sharing or on sick or personal leave. "It's crazy, I cannot understand it and considering that GFD is short of personnel, is paying OT, the ambulances sometimes you only have two when you are suppose to have eight and then you have about one million dollars a year being paid out in my opinion, illegally," said the senator.

GFD Captain Andy Arceo said, "It's actually something that the AG's Office is looking into and we've been looking into." However, he defends the non-productive pay issue. Arceo clarifies that this is not extra pay that the firefighters are getting, saying, "We're continuing the practice that we've been doing nothings actually changed its just now all of a sudden these issues are brought to light but we've been doing these practices, nothings changed we've been doing this for two, three, four, five, fifteen years back."

While Senator Palacios disagrees with the explanation from GFD, he has also planned a roundtable discussion for next Thursday, where he has invited GFD, the Department of Labor, the Guam OPA and the AG's Office to vent out and clear up the problem. "As a last resort if nothing is resolved here then we just have to do it by legislation and define it, when do you apply the special pay and when you are prohibited from applying for special pay," Palacios said.

In the meantime, the Attorney General's Office says they are currently reviewing the senator's concerns.

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