Steamboat to continue discussion about firefighter salaries

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Editor's note: This story has been update to correct that General Services Director Anne Small said unscheduled overtime wouldn't be included in the firefighter salary survey because it can’t be accounted for.

The Steamboat Springs City Council heard about firefighter salaries Tuesday, and it’s far from making a decision. But as they move forward, council members have a considerable amount of information to wade through.

The City Council was presented a salary survey of 11 agencies Tuesday night. The survey included base pay and scheduled overtime for firefighters, but it didn’t include benefits or unscheduled overtime. Benefit information will be presented in May as part of a comprehensive salary survey for all city employees, General Services Director Anne Small said.

Small, who also serves as the city’s human resources manager after last week’s retirement of John Thrasher, said Wednesday that unscheduled overtime wouldn't be included because it can’t be accounted for.

According to budget information provided by the city, full-time firefighters were paid more than $271,000 in overtime last year — which comes to about 22 percent of their total pay of more than $1.2 million. Overtime was budgeted at 21 percent of full-time firefighter salaries in 2012.

Small told the City Council on Tuesday that, according to the survey, the median salary for local firefighters with emergency medical technician certification was $47,522, nearly 6.3 percent less than the median salary for the equivalent position at other comparable agencies.

That disparity grew to 12.8 percent for firefighters with paramedic certification and 15.1 percent for lieutenants. The disparity for fire inspectors was 32.1 percent, but Small said the job descriptions with the other agencies varied greatly.

Some City Council members seemed surprised with the disparities between median salaries.

“We’re probably going to see kind of a differential across the board in all of our city positions,” Small said. “We haven’t had any increases in salaries since 2008.”

Small also added that if 1.5 percent had been added to the median salary each year since 2008, the disparities shrank significantly. She said many of the other comparable agencies gave small raises during that time.

Before his response to a recent report from a consultant that evaluated local fire and emergency services, Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Acting Deputy Fire Chief Mel Stewart explained how firefighter scheduling and pay works.

He said local firefighters work a “Kelly shift,” a common shift for fire agencies across the country. It means firefighters work 24 hours every other day in a six-day period and then have four days off. He said the department uses three shifts of eight firefighters, though that has been down to seven recently because the department has lost a few firefighters that it hasn’t replaced.

After the meeting, acting Public Safety Director Joel Rae said he would meet with City Manager Jon Roberts this week about filling those three positions.

Stewart said working the Kelly shift equates to 2,912 hours per year for every full-time firefighter — 2,756 regular hours and 156 hours of scheduled overtime.

By comparison, a full-time, 40-hour-per-week employee puts in 2,080 hours per year. City employees who work 36 hours per week log 1,872 hours annually.

According to the expected annual wages of Steamboat’s firefighters, some of them make just more than $12 per hour. But because they work so many more hours than regular full-time employees, those firefighters’ annual salaries approach $36,500, which doesn’t included unscheduled overtime. Firefighters are paid for all 24 hours of their shift.

Instead of evaluating firefighter salaries by themselves, City Council members agreed to consider them again when they’re presented with the rest of the city employees salary survey in May.

“I just don’t think we can take them apart and look at them one by one,” council member Scott Myller said. “I think you need to look at the whole picture.”

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

callguinness 2 years, 6 months ago

A 6.3% increase to 47,522 is about 50,515.

Full time firefighters make about 36,500.

That puts them about 27.7% below the 50,515 that the city said they found to be the median from the survey.

How many of them are at the 47,522 that puts them in the 6.3% range?

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livinginthetwilightzone 2 years, 6 months ago

It also seems like the City picked other communities to put in the salary survey that would bring that number lower. For example, the excluded Rifle probably because their firefighters are slotted to get a decent pay increase.

The only way they are making $47,522 is by picking up extra shifts.

It's a shame that firefighters work almost 1000 hours more than all other City employees but get paid far less.

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beentheredonethat 2 years, 6 months ago

If they can find jobs, that pay more elsewhere, then they should move. That is how the market is supposed to work.

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Joe Solomon 2 years, 6 months ago

@beentheredonethat - really think you are missing the mark with the "then they should just move" comment. These are families that have settled here, send their kids to school here, have established themselves in a town that they love and keep this community safe despite the fact that many are forced to take second jobs. When we as a community get to the point where "then they should just move" becomes our standard response, it might just be time for us all to move. One man's opinion....

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beentheredonethat 2 years, 6 months ago

Joe, that is how the market is supposed to work. Sorry that many refuse to understand this dynamic. It is healthy for for the economy when the workforce remains flexible to move to better opportunities.

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livinginthetwilightzone 2 years, 6 months ago

Beentheredonethat you should be thankful you have such highly skilled people currently filling these positions at $12/hr. Many of them have left and others are applying in other areas. What you get to replace them for that wage is people that may have the certification but don't have the training. You will then hope that they have enough skill to possibly save a life or put out a fire. Ask someone who has had to use their services how much they appreciate having someone who knows what they are doing. The majority of the EMS/fire employees in this community work a 24 hour shift and then go to another job when their shift is done. Do you know any other department in this City that the personnel have to do so to another job after working 24 hours? No, most of them are paid a livable wage. Some of them, such as ex-City managers, get loans to buy houses.

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