South King Fire and Rescue commissioners are hoping to approve a new policy that would provide employees who are in the military and called to serve extended deployments military leave differential pay without needing board approval.
South King’s board of commissioners unanimously approved differential pay for firefighter Brandon Church — an active reservist for the U.S. Air Force — just two weeks before he deployed to Niger, Africa, to serve six to nine months. Brandon Church is the son of SKFR Chief Dr. Allen Church.
Vice chair Mark Thompson made the motion during the June 25 meeting to approve the offer of differential pay to firefighter Brandon Church, which was seconded by commissioner Bill Fuller. Both Thompson and board chair Bill Gates confirmed with the Mirror that the June motion pertained to only one individual — Brandon Church.
However, South King’s online meeting minutes do not reflect a mention of Brandon Church, instead stating Thompson “made a motion to approve the enhanced military policy to make our employees that are deployed wages whole.”
Board secretary Lauri Perry responded to the discrepancy on Friday, Aug. 9.
“After further review, it was determined there was a mistake contained within the posted minutes,” she wrote to the Mirror.
According to Perry’s response, the June minutes should have read: “Commissioner Thompson made a motion to approve the Enhanced Military Leave policy for Firefighter Brandon Church during his deployment. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Fuller. The motion passed unanimously.”
Perry noted the mistake will be addressed with a correction to the minutes at the upcoming commissioner meeting on Aug. 27.
The new policy would eliminate the board’s case-by-case review process for military leave approval and would automatically extend the differential pay to all employees who may be deployed for more than 30 days.
“There was also discussion on plans to possibly update the policy and that recommendation had been made, but no motion has been made to update the policy as of yet,” SKFR Lt. Brad Chaney told the Mirror on Wednesday.
“What we want to do is change it … in the future,” Gates told the Mirror on Tuesday about the potential policy for automatic approval of the pay.
Based on discussions after Brandon Church’s approval, Gates said, the board intends to update the policy soon.
Brandon Church is one of three employees who have received the military deployment differential pay during deployment in the last 30 years, Chaney said.
Brandon Church is a military veteran and an active reservist for the U.S. Air Force, according to the enhanced military leave recommendation letter sent to the board by Mary Stevens, SKFR human resources administrator.
Erik Kiphart, deployed from January to October 2010, and Robert Bryant, deployed August 2008 to September 2009, have also received differential pay during their extended military assignments.
“Three times over the last 30 years, firefighters from South King Fire and Rescue have made these deployments and the fire commissioners have supported our members with granted leave, retention of benefits and covered the differential between what the US military pays our soldiers and what they earn as a firefighter,” South King wrote in a press release.
“This allows our firefighters to meet the financial obligations they made based on their firefighter salaries, taking some stress off their families knowing they did not have to take a pay cut because of their sacrifice and service to the country.”
Lt. Bryant said he is forever grateful for South King’s support during his wartime efforts.
“Without batting an eye, South King Fire notified me they bridged the gap between my military pay,” he told the Mirror. South King also maintained his family insurance coverage while on deployment. “The financial stress was alleviated at that moment, which allowed me to focus on my military mission.”
Another reason the board hopes to remove the case-by-case review policy is to ensure employees will not miss a payment due to having to wait for the board’s approval at the next monthly meeting or until a special meeting is held, Thompson said.
This “extra step” in the policy poses a possible delay in compensation, he said.
Chair Gates explained the board’s previous review did not have criteria besides confirming the individual’s deployment would last longer than 30 days. Lengthy deployments are defined as more than 30 days in length in the manual and states “the Board may approve payment of the difference between the military salary received by the employee and their prior base salary or wages received from the Fire Department.”
If approved, the new policy would extend the differential pay to all SKFR employees who deploy for an extended period of time.
“We want to make sure that all of those called to active duty are treated equally and made whole,” Chaney said, adding that the department has never denied any employees’ requests for differential pay during military deployment.
“Hence the reason for the update,” Chaney said. “[W]hy do a case-by-case basis when we have no desire to deny someone to be treated equally or made whole?”
South King Fire currently employs 28 military veteran and active duty reservists as firefighters and in support of the active military men and women within the department, covers up to 21 days of missed work due to military leave for training and required drills, Chaney added.
In the past, the fire department has been awarded the Army National Guard Minuteman statue, along with additional accolades, Chaney said, in recognition the backing of their troops.