Firefighters and families complain of unfair treatment by Commish

Firefighters have to wait, while salary raises for cops are already in the pipeline
ausage@samoanews.com

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Several firefighters from the local Fire Bureau, a division of the Department of Public Safety (DPS), together with their families have voiced their frustrations with Police Commissioner, Le’i Sonny Thompson, for continuing to ignore them and always putting the needs of police officers first.

Over the past two weeks, Samoa News has received numerous complaints from several firefighters, including their spouses and their children.

One of the firefighters who has been working for the Fire Division for over 10 years said a meeting between their division and Le’i was called two weeks ago, after Samoa News published a story about Le’i transferring firefighters to the TCF to guard two inmates who escaped twice this year.

“During our meeting, Le’i apologized to all of us, including our Fire Chief, for allowing firefighters to assist police officers at the TCF. He also told us that DPS is now working closely with the Department of Human Resources (DHR) to finalize the package to raise the salary for DPS, but police officers will have their raise first while firefighters will be at a later time,” the firefighter said.

“This is disgusting and unfair for all of the firefighters who have worked hard days and nights to serve our government and the community, but it seems the police commissioner is looking the other way, making police officers his first priority while we’re all doing the same job — protecting the lives of our people.”

A daughter of a long serving firefighter echoed the same thoughts to Samoa News, saying her father — who has worked for the Fire Division for over 15 years, and her fiancé, whose been on the force for over 8 years — each deserve a salary increase.

The woman also told Samoa News that her father, together with many of the firefighters who worked during the 2009 tsunami, have yet to be paid their overtime.

“They have helped with search and rescue, they have had to work 8-12 hour shifts because of a shortage of manpower, they have helped the police with locating escapees, they have helped the police with their daily duties such as being the dispatchers when they serve calls, being the extra manpower when serving calls,”  she continued.

“I say this because I’ve experienced it first hand, I used to be a police officer. As much as I loved my job as a cop, I always felt that the police department was abusing and benefiting off the Fire Division with regards to funding. The Police Department was getting new equipment and all the training, but these firefighters had to bring their personal tools to fix their own fire trucks, they have to share their fire protection uniforms, and they get little to no training.”

The woman said she was very much against firefighters being assigned to TCF to guard the two prison escapees.

“My father being a ‘old time’ firefighter stood his ground and told these higher ups that he would not go to TCF because he was not trained to do what they wanted him to do, and he’s not going to risk his life or even care if he gets written up for it,” the frustrated woman said.

Her fiancé on the other hand tried to say no but was advised that if he refuses he will get a warning letter for not obeying orders.

“It's sad to know that they are doing this so the cops can benefit from FEMA, Homeland Security, and Red Cross while these firefighters are not getting anything from it,” the woman said.

The spouse of a long serving firefighter also chimed in on the issue, telling Samoa News she’s mad, hurt, and concerned because the police commissioner thinks cops lives are the only lives that matter. She said families of all the firefighters are also concerned with the safety of their loved ones who are serving.

“I blame the Fire Chief for the mistreatment that firefighters are getting. For many years since my husband has been working as a firefighter, the Fire Chief has done nothing to better the Fire Division, other than having his son (who is also a firefighter and a Watch Commander) make changes without addressing them to the shifts,” she said.

She added that firefighters don’t get overtime because the Fire Chief isn’t fighting for it, and when the overtime issue is brought up to the Fire Chief, he just says “onosa’i (be patient).

The woman told Samoa News that she’s praying Le’i will include firefighters in the current package for police salary increases because all law enforcement working under the DPS umbrella must receive the same treatment.

During a House Public Safety Committee hearing two weeks ago, faipule shared the same concerns with Le’i and the Fire Chief.

Vice Speaker, Rep. Fetu Fetui Jr, a former cop, told Le’i that firefighters should also be included in the salary increases, and it shouldn't be for police officers only.

Fetu told Le’i this was the same practice during his time as a cop, where police officers received all the benefits like rank promotion, trainings, new equipment, and even salary increases, without including the firefighters.

“This must be stopped!” Fetu told Le’i. “You have to treat police officers, firefighters and also prison guards the same. Don’t do good for the cops while ignoring the firefighters and the prison guards. They are all human beings and are all serving under your control.”

Le’i told the committee that they’re working together with DHR to finalize the package for a salary increase for cops, and Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga approved the package.

He added that if law enforcement personnel working under the umbrella of DPS are included in the package, it would mean the government needs to come up with over $9 million to cover the salary increases.

And for that reason, Le’i told the committee he already informed the firefighters and prison guards together with their leaders, the upcoming salary increases will be for police officers only, and the next will be for them. He did not elaborate when the next salary increase package will be.

The starting salary for police officers is $11,000 a year. Le’i told the committee he’s asking for $16,000 and noted that the starting salary for cops in Guam is $22,000 and $18,000 per year in the CNMI.

Fetu told Le’i he's received a lot of complaints from some police officers, accusing him of not treating all cops the same.

“My advice for you is to never take sides in your department, and not to support only the police officers who do favors for you, and ignore others who go against your orders. Treat all police officers the same.”

Fetu concluded, "During my time in law enforcement, when a cop does something wrong, the commissioner during our time would transfer that officer to the TCF as punishment. I was told by some of the police officers that the same practice is still in place during your term. If a police officer has done something wrong, your duty as a leader is to find ways to bring him/ her back to being a good person again, and doing things to punish him/ her [for the wrong].”

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