Saratoga County

Saratoga Springs firefighters will march in parade as volunteers

City firefighters voted unanimously Monday to march in Saturday’s Flag Day parade as volunteers, and

City firefighters voted unanimously Monday to march in Saturday’s Flag Day parade as volunteers, and not get paid overtime, as had been the usual practice.

“We will show the public their Fire Department. We will march for free,” said Joe Dolan, the firefighters’ union president.

He said the firefighters just have to contact the Elks Lodge today to notify them that about a dozen firefighters, in their dress uniforms, will be marching in the Flag Day parade as they have for decades.

Dolan said he wasn’t sure if the firefighters would use city fire trucks in the parade. “That’s up to the city, that’s not our decision,” he said.

The parade, organized by the Saratoga-Wilton Elks Lodge No. 161, will step off at noon Saturday on North Broadway, rain or shine.

Firefighters voted to march without getting paid, at the end of a weeks-long controversy over police officers and firefighters getting paid overtime to march in parades where most participants are volunteers.

Up until last week, city officials believed a federal law required police and firefighters to get paid if they appear in uniform at a parade.

But on Friday, the city’s labor attorneys declared officers and firefighters can march as volunteers, even if they’re wearing their uniforms, said Public Safety Commissioner Richard Wirth.

If vehicles — fire trucks or police cars — are used in the parade, the city will pay the driver’s wages, since city equipment is being used, Wirth said.

The police color guard traditionally marches at city parades, and so does the fire department, wearing its dress, or “Class A” uniforms.

The issue came to light after the city this year required event organizers to pay police overtime to put on their events, such as officers directing traffic or closing off streets. But the bill presented to the Elks Club also included officer overtime for marching in the parade.

Some members of the public then criticized police officers and firefighters for getting paid to march, which Cole said was unfair because it was a management decision not made by individual officers.

“This is the last thing that I wanted to have happen,” he said. “I thought they were being unduly targeted.”

Dolan said many firefighters never marked the parade time on their time sheets in the past and instead marched for free.

“I think the misunderstanding a lot of people have is that’s why we do it,” Dolan said, referring to overtime pay.

The Fire Department union donates money to the Flag Day parade, he added.

Police officers have not decided whether to march. Union president Sgt. John Catone said he’s not sure whether the police are invited anymore.

“I’m not asking for something I’m not invited to,” he said, adding the discussions about pay happened between the Elks and the city, not the union.

Chief Christopher Cole said it’s up to the union to volunteer if members wish. Managers like him can’t ask employees to work for free.

Cole said the U.S. Department of Labor had told him in the past that police officers weren’t allowed to march in uniform unless they were paid, under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. After the city’s labor attorneys said otherwise, Cole called the department again and got the same answer he got before.

“About 20 minutes later, I got another phone call recanting that position,” Cole said, adding the department now considered the matter a “gray area” of law but sided on the side of officers being allowed to volunteer their time.

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