Steamboat to continue discussion about firefighter salaries | SteamboatToday.com

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Steamboat to continue discussion about firefighter salaries

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