Effect of paramedics' overtime pay ruling feared Costs could force changes, Arundel fire chief says

March 05, 1998|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

A federal court decision awarding Anne Arundel County paramedics overtime pay could create new difficulties in a county with a tax ceiling and a Fire Department that spends more on overtime than any other department.

Retroactive pay for the 143 paramedics who brought the lawsuit could add nearly $4 million to the EMS/Fire/Rescue budget of $46.6 million, officials said. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, rendered Feb. 18 in Richmond, Va., could open the door to suits for overtime by firefighters who give medical aid.

The ruling's possible repercussions could change the Fire Department's structure and harden distinctions between firefighters and paramedics that the fire chief has struggled to obliterate.

It also is likely to nudge the county toward user fees for emergency medical care as the Fire Department expands service to a growing population.

"This ruling is going to be watched across the country," said Alan Caldwell, director of government relations at the International Association of Fire Chiefs. "Anne Arundel County is a little different than other [fire] departments, but it ain't that different."

Anne Arundel County set a national precedent in 1972 when it began training firefighters in basic life-support techniques and paramedics in fire suppression. Since then, the majority of the nation's fire departments have begun to cross-train employees.

In municipalities with cross-training, paramedics are paid like firefighters and police, who, by federal law, must work 53 hours before overtime pay begins.

But paramedics in a dozen states have sued their local governments for overtime after 40 hours and won because the court ruled they were not typically firefighters and spent most of their time in medical aid.

Thus, the court ruled, they could not be classified or paid in the same way as their counterparts.

Pub Date: 3/05/98

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