Fla. fire union questions battalion chief's overtime pay for paramedic school
The county will pay $7,600 for Bobby Bohn’s school, and will also pay him to take 1,200 hours of classes, 450 hours of ambulance rides and hospital hours
By John Chambliss
BARTOW, Fla. — The county is expected to pay a fire battalion chief tens of thousands of dollars in overtime to attend paramedic school.
Battalion Chief Bobby Bohn, a 23-year veteran in the department, started classes at South Florida State College in Avon Park in January. Since then, he's accumulated $5,028 for the 115 hours of overtime he's filed with the county.
The special circumstance of applying paramedic-school attendance to time worked only pertains to Bohn, 52.
Deputy County Manager Joe Halman said Bohn had to be compensated based on the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
"He was under a contract in an existing position and we changed a policy," Halman said.
Asked why the county didn't just tell Bohn he didn't have to take the paramedic training, Halman said the fire department had made a decision in 2017 that officials who are ranked captain and above must have paramedic training.
He also said a union contract required them to send Bohn to school.
But firefighter Jay Schwartz, the former union president for the fire department and current member, said they had no issue with the county not sending Bohn to paramedic school if it could save the county money.
"The fiscally responsible thing for taxpayers is that when they (the county) realized how much this was going to cost they should have not required him to go," Schwartz said.
In addition to paying the $7,600 for the cost of the school, the county will pay Bohn to take 1,200 hours of class time, 450 hours of riding in an ambulance and 125 hours in a hospital to become a paramedic, according to notes during union negotiations last year.
Bohn, who continues to work his job as battalion chief, is paid a rate of $29.15 an hour and an overtime rate of $43.73.
Polk County Fire Union President Derek Walsh pointed out during negotiations that it would cost the county $77,620 on top of Bohn's salary if he's paid overtime for every hour.
Walsh attempted to persuade county officials to drop Bohn's paramedic classes and overtime pay in exchange for the county to implement a 13-step plan rather than the 26-step plan currently in place, according to a transcript of the meeting.
It would result in 125 people receiving an additional 1.75 percent raise at a cost of $125,000 to the county, he said.
Walsh said if the county chose to use Bohn's payments for attending school it would significantly reduce the amount of money needed.
During the negotiations, Walsh added up the costs of paying Bohn to drive to and from the college in Avon Park at about $9,800 and the cost of books and tuition at $7,650.
"That's my concern with this," Walsh said. "We're going to pay $95,000-plus to one individual when we could essentially help the entire department as a whole."
Halman said it wouldn't be that much money, according to a transcript of the negotiation session, but he said he had the same concerns before speaking with Bohn about how long he planned to stay at the department.
Mianne Nelson, a spokeswoman with the county, said it's still unclear how much Bohn will be paid based on how much regular pay and overtime he accumulates.
During the negotiation, Walsh then questioned how much the county will get in return once Bohn receives his paramedic certification.
"When he starts his paramedic school in January, he will only have two years before he hits his 25-year mark," Walsh said. "You're looking at almost 18 months before we get him into the field."
Walsh added that he doesn't know how long Bohn plans to stay with the county after completing the classes.
Halman responded that Bohn plans to stay for five years in the state's deferred retirement option plan.
"I inquired because I had the same concern," Halman said.
During the negotiations, Walsh said he'd spoken with Bohn about not going to school.
He said that he didn't want to speak for Bohn, but added that he thought Bohn would be more willing to help out the department than attend paramedic school based on the fact that he was close to retirement and that he had a second job.
"It's not like it's hurting him in the financial aspect," Walsh said. "In all reality, I'm sure he'd like to spend that extra 1,700 hours with his wife."
Bohn could not be reached for comment.
Schwartz said during negotiations that there were three other battalion chiefs who weren't required to become paramedics. One agreed to retire, while two others are currently in the DROP program, he said.
Halman reiterated that Bohn was different because he said he would stay beyond two years and planned to enter into the five-year DROP plan.
Bohn has faced trouble since school began.
On Feb. 4, Battalion Chief Eric Johnson sent Deputy Chief Mike Linkins an email accusing Bohn of removing a firefighter from the engine so he could help him with his work.
"It was reported that CH. (chief) Bohn was using this person to assist with taking paramedic exams online for paramedic school," Johnson wrote. "I feel like I have a duty to report since we are striving to put adequate staffing levels of 3 personnel on every truck and this alleged action downed the crew to 2 for personal needs."
Johnson wrote that the incident occurred on Jan. 28 or Jan. 31.
Nelson, the county spokeswoman, said an internal investigation was underway.
She said employees who will be interviewed were told about the inquiry Thursday.
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