Capt. Chris Breunig shortly before his promotion to fire chief in 2012.Chris Breunig has been universally praised in his three-year tenure as Ocean City fire chief.But his accomplishments have not made him the highest paid member of the Ocean City Fire Department.Breunig plans to step down from fire chief to deputy chief, and in doing so, he’ll receive what will amount to about a $15,000 increase in his annual pay.In Ocean City, the chief’s salary is set by ordinance, starting at $126,500 per year.Compensation for all other members of the department is negotiated through collective bargaining agreements — with firefighters climbing up salary steps, receiving annual increases, bumps for training and certifications, extra pay for regular shifts that carry them beyond 40 hours per week, and eligibility for other overtime.The department’s three deputy chiefs earn anywhere from $137,000 to $148,000 each year, according to Breunig. His salary now stands at $131,200, he said.“I’m very disappointed,” Breunig said. “It’s not something I want to do. But I have to make the choice for personal and financial reasons to take a voluntary demotion. I would have liked to finish out what I started to do with the department.”Breunig is electing to exercise a provision within state Civil Service guidelines that allows him to move to administrative deputy chief without affecting the jobs of the other deputies.The city has posted a Civil Service announcement advertising the job of fire chief at a salary range from $126,500 to $132,500 with an application deadline of August 21.City Council recently approved an ordinance that gave Breunig (along with Police Chief Chad Callahan and Finance Director Frank Donato) a 1.5 percent base salary increase for 2015, then 1.25 percent increases each year from 2016 to 2018. The rate increases reflect the numbers approved in collective bargaining agreements with all other city employees.But unlike Callahan — who received a one-time increase that set his salary at $140,554 in 2013 because a state law requires a police chief’s base salary to be higher than that of any of his subordinates — Breunig earns far less than his immediate charges.Breunig faced his first big test about three months after being hired when firefighters rescued stranded residents and fought fires during the record flooding of Superstorm Sandy. He was recognized for identifying an government surplus program that brought a number of large, flood-proof vehicles to Ocean City at no cost. He is credited for reducing overtime costs and continuing a strong program of community involvement.“Chris Breunig is the fire chief,” Ocean City Business Administrator Jim Mallon said. “He’s going to be the chief until the mayor replaces him.”Mallon said the city administration has been consistent with its salary increases for city employees. He said the administration couldn’t comment further on the personnel matter.City Council President Keith Hartzell was not available for immediate comment on the prospect of a local ordinance similar to the state law requiring that the police chief be the highest paid in the department.