Alaska Fire Chief Seeks FLSA Overtime

The fire chief of Salcha Fire & Rescue, Inc., has filed suit in US District Court for the District of Alaska seeking compensation for overtime worked since 2021. Chief Darrell VandeWeg claims that his duties as fire chief do not qualify him for any of the white-collar exemptions that normally would apply to fire chiefs.

The three white-collar exemptions are the executive exemption, the administrative exemption and the professional exemption. Most fire chiefs qualify under the executive exemption because their primary duty is the management of the enterprise. Chief VandeWeg claims his job duties are different. Quoting from the complaint:

  • Darrell VandeWeg started work for Defendant Salcha Fire & Rescue, Inc., on April 2, 2018. He was originally hired as a FF/Medic/Driver.
  • This position was non-exempt from overtime pay requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and he was fully paid for his overtime work.
  • On April 1, 2021, Darrel VandeWeg was hired to a new job with Defendant Salcha Fire & Rescue, Inc. His new job held the title of “Fire Chief.”
  • This new job had a starting hourly wage of $33.85 hr.
  • This new job did not denote whether he was FLSA exempt or non-exempt.
  • He was not paid for the overtime work that he performed, despite asking for payment.
  • During the duration of his employment with Salcha Fire & Rescue, Inc., Mr. VandeWeg’s primary duty as Fire Chief was the prevention, control, extinguishment, of fires within the Salcha coverage area.
  • Additionally, Mr. VandeWeg had as a primary duty the performance of medic duties and acting as primary point of contact for all emergency calls.
  • During the duration of his employment with Salcha Fire & Rescue, Inc., Mr. VandeWeg had as a secondary duty the responsibility for training, directing and preparing a number of volunteer fire fighters and the overseeing of a budget.
  • During the duration of his employment with Salcha Fire & Rescue, Inc., Mr. VandeWeg was a subordinate to the President of Salcha Fire & Rescue, Inc., and also a subordinate to its Board of Directors.
  • The President and Board of Directors for Salcha Fire & Rescue, Inc., had the ultimate control and authority over the management and operation of the entity.
  • Between April 1, 2021 through to November 30, 2023, Mr. VandeWeg worked approximately 1,802 hours of overtime work, for which he was not compensated.

Under the FLSA, once an employee establishes that the FLSA applies to them, the burden to establish that an exemption applies shifts to the employer, in this case the Salcha Fire & Rescue, Inc. Chief VandeWeg is seeking compensation for 1,802 hours at his overtime rate, plus liquidated damages and attorneys fees.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

By the way, we will be discussing the right of fire officers to receive overtime on April 18, 2024. Please join us for Advanced FLSA: Fire Officers and Overtime

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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