The San Ramon Valley Fire District's chief quietly retired on Jan. 11 after six years with the department. At a district board meeting on Jan. 25, Richard Price announced that he would continue his duties as chief but with virtually no pay and no benefits.
According to reports, Price will officially be a volunteer and signed a contract with the district for a monthly salary of $1 for insurance purposes. A firefighter for 32 years (four of which were spent as SRV fire chief), he will receive a pension based on 3 percent of the highest year's salary multiplied by the number of years Price served as a public employee.
"I have a desire to do the job as a volunteer. I started as a volunteer and entered the profession because I loved what firefighters did," Price said. "I never did this job because of the salary, the pension, the benefits."
Price's base salary in 2011 was $208,104, said district Finance Supervisor Gloriann Sasser. He also received $9,398 in administrative leave cash-out, $5,688 in hazardous materials team pay, $16,458 in longevity pay (for public employees in service for more than 30 years), $11,364 in management incentive pay and $9,398 in unused vacation pay for a gross salary of $260,410.
Although Price called his semi-retirement an exercise in putting his money where his mouth is by working without taking a salary, he said some people have had a hard time adjusting to the concept.
"I think people will think I'm less in the game because I'm not taking a salary. We have had volunteers that have been here more than 35 years and I think it's unfair to say that just because someone is a volunteer, they aren't as committed," Price said.
The chief was adamant that he is committed to doing his job at the exact same level. Price said he has no time frame for a full retirement and will continue as a volunteer chief for as long as the district's Board of Directors will allow him.
"When you get to the job that I have… you face the criticism of a very high paid public employee. For me, that took away from what I'm doing," he said. "This job is not about the money for me."
While the Contra Costa County Employees Retirement Association did not return calls for comment, Price suspects his pension will be close to what he was earning as fire chief.
A Castro Valley native, 50-year-old Price began volunteering with Hayward's Fairview Fire District at 17 and became a firefighter in San Mateo County the following year. In 2006, after 27 years in San Mateo, he was hired as assistant chief for the SRV Fire District in and became chief in 2008.
Price was attracted to the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District because he wanted to work in his hometown of 20-plus years.