RI Per Diem Firefighters Want Compensation for Volunteer Hours

Ten per-diem firefighters with the Pascoag Fire District have filed suit claiming they are entitled to compensation for all of the hours they provided services to the district, including hours they volunteered.

Andrew N. Peck, Richard R. Peck II, Brett J. Lisak, George Rua, Lisa M. Beausoleil, Randy O. Crowe, Hayley Morin, Thomas R. Walker, Jr., Mackenzie R. Beausoleil, and Ryan E. Peck filed suit in US District Court for the District of Rhode Island alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Rhode Island Payment of Wages Act.

The firefighters claims that they and past fire chiefs informed the district that the compensation scheme was illegal, but district officials ignored their concerns.  Quoting from the complaint:

  • Plaintiffs respond to both fire and EMT calls and provide firefighting and EMT services including, for example, administering first aid, transporting people with medical issues to medical facilities, and firefighting.
  • As per-diem Firefighter/EMTs, Plaintiffs are compensated for work performed at an hourly rate of pay.
  • However, Plaintiffs also work as Firefighter/EMTs for Defendant, performing the same exact job duties/services as per-diem Firefighter/EMTs, on a volunteer basis for which they are not paid and only occasionally receive a small, nominal stipend depending on the specific work tasks performed.
  • With respect to all Plaintiffs, the work done as paid workers and as volunteers is identical in all respects other than pay, or lack thereof.
  • As such Defendant pays the Plaintiffs an hourly rate for some hours, nominal pay below minimum wage for some hours, and no pay at all for other hours, all while Plaintiffs were doing the same work, tasks, and jobs
  • This payment scheme violates both the RIPWA and the FLSA.
  • The FLSA makes it clear that individuals may volunteer services to the public agency by which they are employed only where the individual 1) performs hours of service for civic, charitable or humanitarian reasons, without promise, expectation or receipt of compensation for services rendered other than the payment of expenses, reasonable benefits or a nominal fee, 2) offers the services freely and without pressure or coercion, direct or implied; and, 3) is not otherwise employed by the same public agency to perform the same type of services as those for which the individual proposes to volunteer. 29 U.S.C. §203(e)(4)(A); 29 C.F.R. §§553.101 and 553.103 (“[A] firefighter cannot volunteer as a firefighter for the same public agency.”)
  • Insofar as Plaintiffs are employed by the same public agency to perform the same type of services as those for which they also “volunteer,” the pay scheme employed by the Defendant whereby it receives “volunteer” services from Plaintiffs without compensation or nominal compensation is expressly forbidden under applicable law.
  • Consequently, Plaintiffs are owed compensation at their regular hourly rate for all hours worked wherein Defendant classified them as “volunteers” and did not provide their regular hourly rate for those hours worked.
  • From 2020 to 2022, Defendant had four different Fire Chiefs, at least two (2) of whom, Chief Carter and Chief St. Pierre, expressed concerns to Defendant that its pay scheme described herein was unlawful.
  • Chief St. Pierre and Plaintiff Richard Peck II, who at all relevant times served as Deputy Fire Chief, both explicitly told the chairperson of the Defendant’s governing board, Christopher Toti, that the pay scheme described herein was unlawful.
  • Further, Plaintiff Andrew Peck also informed Defendant that this pay scheme was and is unlawful.
  • Plaintiff Andrew Peck also contacted various state and federal agencies about the unlawful pay scheme matter, disclosed these communications to Defendant, and attempted to resolve and correct the unlawful pay scheme issue directly with Defendant.
  • However, Defendant refused and continues to refuse to institute a pay scheme that comports with the requirements of the FLSA and RIPWA.

They are seeking compensation for between 16.5 and 447 hours, depending on the Plaintiff. Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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