I have read multiple articles in local papers that make personal attacks on the Arcata Fire District (AFD) Administration regarding salaries and how the Administration should make cuts at the top. Many of these articles reference Transparent California, which can be confusing at best.
After writing multiple articles aimed at educating the community about Arcata Fire District operations, I feel obligated to clarify misrepresented information once again. Here are the facts.
My current position is battalion chief – operations and training. My salary is $93,469.55 per year. My take home pay is $2,495.38 every two weeks (after taxes and retirement contributions).
Like many Americans my normal work schedule is a 40-hour work week. However, my “Duty Coverage” or average workweek is 96 to 150 hours/week (my average “on-duty” time May-August 2020). This means I was “on-duty,” working, or on call, between 96 to 150 hours per week. This is primarily due to the recent staffing cuts made to the Administration. The fire chief also covers the “duty” now that we have frozen battalion chief positions.
When covering the duty, our vehicle is our office. We are restricted to staying in the fire district boundaries. This means we are unable to go to Eureka, go for a walk with our spouse, take the dog to the vet, go to the grocery store, take the kids to school events, or anything that most families can do.
This is a huge burden on our families. We do not receive extra compensation for the extra hours we are now required to cover the duty. This is a result of the District’s funding issues and has been a temporary solution (seven months so far) until we know the results of Measure F. The current work schedule that Chief McDonald and I are working right now cannot be sustained.
Transparent California shows my 2019 regular pay as $93,469. This was accurate. It also shows I made $22,599 in “overtime” and $780 in other pay. Arcata Fire District’s chief officers do not get overtime. This extra pay was straight time (not time-and-a-half) earned for covering open shifts for other chief officers when they were off work (sick time, vacation, workers comp, etc…).
For example, in 2019, one of the other battalion chiefs was out on a strike team assignment last summer so we had to cover his shifts while he was deployed. When I covered these additional shifts, compensation was at my straight time (not overtime). Yes, I was compensated for working beyond my normal required work schedule in 2019. Since we are down two chief officer positions, the fire chief moved me to a different work schedule. The $780 in other pay is reimbursement for personal expenses.
In 2018, as reflected in Transparent California, I spent nearly a month at the Mendocino Complex as a safety officer. The State of California paid me for approximately 580 hours of work at this incident. When I was “on-duty” but working at the Mendocino Complex, one of the other chiefs had to cover my open shift at home. The State pays for this coverage.
When you look at Transparent California, this would explain the “other pay” and “overtime” pay listed in chief officer salaries for AFD chiefs. Assisting at these large wildland fires is an essential service that helps the greater good. As I said earlier, when we work extra, we are paid for the extra work.
Chief McDonald has been chastised for his $120,486 salary. In my opinion, anyone who criticizes this salary has no understanding of the responsibilities of this position.
Uri Driscoll compared the AFD chief’s salary to the national average of $87,000. We are in California! Do I need to say more?
Chief McDonald is a bargain at $120,000. Battalion chiefs in other California departments make minimum of $120,000 to $140,000/year.
Let’s compare Chief McDonald “regular pay” to other positions in the County. Information obtained from Transparent California.
• HCSO Public Defender: $134,000
• County Physician/Psychiatrist: $226,000 to $250,000
• District Attorney: $185,000
• HCSO Sheriff: $176,000
• County Administrative Officer: $196,000
• County Chief Probation Officer: $131,000
• Director of Public Works: $136,000
I hope this explanation provides some insight on the numbers in Transparent California. As always, we can be reached by phone if you have further questions. (707) 825-2000
Sean Campbell is a proud public servant and Arcata Fire Department battalion chief with 30 years in the fire service. He is a certified chief fire officer through the State Fire Marshal’s Office and has been serving our community as a firefighter, coach and volunteer since 1990.