Cambridge Fire officers receive first pay increase in 10 years

Is $4.61 per hour too much to pay the Cambridge Fire Chief?

That was the question Council Member Bob Shogren asked the Cambridge City Council during its meeting Oct. 29 regarding increases for Cambridge Fire Department officers.

Cambridge Fire Chief Sean Okerlund explained even though calls have nearly doubled the past 10 years, the Cambridge Fire Department officers haven’t received a pay increase.

Okerlund explained current annual pay is as follows: Fire Chief, $1,500; Assistant Chief, $1,200; Public Information Officer, $1,200; and Captains, $700.

The proposed 2013 amounts are Fire Chief, $6,000; Assistant Chief, $3,000; Captain 1 and 2 and Public Information Officer, $1,200; Lieutenants 1 and 2, $800; and Safety Officer, $800.

“We feel this is a reasonable request and it fits our budget adjustment for 2013,” Okerlund said.

Following discussion, the council approved the pay increase by a 4-1 vote with Cambridge Mayor Marlys Palmer casting the dissenting vote.

Okerlund explained in 10 years, the fire department has almost doubled its call volume from 119 calls in 2002 to over 200 in 2012.

He explained this is due to the added services that the fire department has chosen to provide for the residents it serves.

He noted the fire department has added services at no extra charge to the residents, and raised the funds it needed to buy and donate the equipment and tools. He said the department has also been pro-active in locating and applying for grant funding sources to assist in department needs.

While Mayor Palmer agreed the fire chief does a lot of work and supports the department, she said she would rather see the increase spread out over a couple of years.

“Going from $1,500 to $6,000 is too big of a jump for one year,” Mayor Palmer said. “I don’t think the public will understand this. I do know you work very hard, but I think the public perception of going from $1,500 to $6,000 is too much of a shock.”

Okerlund said as fire chief he usually works 25 hours per week, even while maintaining a full time job. He also mentioned the fire department did survey other fire departments when deciding on the recommended 2013 proposed salary figures.

Shogren said when doing the calculations, based on the number of hours Okerlund works as fire chief, current pay would put him at $1.04 an hour.

With the increase to $6,000 per year, it would put him at $4.61 per hour.

“Paying a fire chief $4.61 per hour is pretty cheap,” Shogren said. “Providing fire department services is a core government function. This is what a city is supposed to do.”

Mayor Palmer said she feels the Cambridge Fire officers do deserve a raise, but feels it should be within smaller increments.

“With the economy being what it is and not being able to provide others with raises for what they do …. I don’t disagree you need a raise, but I think there can be a raise that’s much easier and acceptable. I think a 200 percent increase is a lot at one time,” Mayor Palmer said.

In 2007, the fire department provided fire suppression. In 2012 the department provides fire suppression, first responder, auto extrication, technical rescue, high angle rope rescue, confined space rescue, CO/explosive gas testing, building pre-plans that are computer based and cold water rescue.

Cambridge Officer Adam Rackow was sworn in as the newest member of the Cambridge Police Department during the Oct. 29 meeting. Pictured, from left, are Officer Rackow’s mother Georgia, his wife Angie holding daughter Courtney, Officer Rackow with sons Kyle and Corey, Cambridge Mayor Marlys Palmer and Cambridge Police Chief Dave Pajnic. Photo by Rachel Kytonen