Ten per diem firefighters in Pascoag file suit seeking compensation for volunteer work hours

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BURRILLVILLE – Saying their lack of compensation is a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Rhode Island Payment of Wages Act, ten per-diem firefighters filed suit this week against the Pascoag Fire District in Rhode Island District Court.

The group, represented by Warwick-based Sinapi Law Associates, LTD,, all work as per diem firefighters/Emergency Medical Technicians while also working shifts as “volunteers,” in an arrangement described in the suit as an, “illegal pay scheme.”

The plaintiffs, Andrew Peck; Richard Peck II; Brett Lisak; George Rua; Lisa Beausoleil; Randy Crowe; Hayley Morin; Thomas Walker Jr.; Mackenzie Beausoleil and Ryan Peck, point to language in the federal FLSA law, which notes that individuals may volunteer services to the public agency by which they are employed only when they are, “not otherwise employed by the same public agency to perform the same type of services.”

The suit notes the firefighters have worked under four different fire chiefs from 2020 to 2022, and at least two – Chief Harold Carter and Chief Mark St. Pierre – expressed concerns that the pay scheme was unlawful.

“The work done as paid workers and as volunteers is identical in all respects other than pay, or lack thereof,” notes the suit, filed Friday, Sept. 9. “Plaintiffs are owed compensation at their regular hourly rate for all hours worked wherein defendant classified them as ‘volunteers.'”

Richard Peck, who has worked for the district since 1994 and currently serves as deputy chief, is seeking compensation for 447 unpaid volunteer hours. Others are seeking payment for between 16.5 and 403 hours at their regular rate of pay.

The lawsuit states that Deputy Chief Peck and St. Pierre told Pascoag Board of Fire Commission Chairman Christopher Toti that the pay scheme was unlawful.

News of the suit follows an annual meeting, held Monday, Sept. 12, at which district voters passed the budget, and the chairman was elected for another term with 96 votes. Former Chief Carter also won a seat on the commission with 51 votes.

In addition to their wages, the group is also seeking punitive damages, and an award of liquidated damages of two times the amount of wages and and/or benefits owed, as well as attorney’s fees and costs for litigation.

Toti told NRI NOW that he has no comment at this time regarding the litigation.

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