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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) —  It’s one of the most important public services a community can have, but the Wilmington Fire Department says their current pay rate is unsustainable and unacceptable.
Just days before the Wilmington City Council’s next budget meeting the Wilmington Professional Firefighters Association sent a letter to each council member asking to be treated like valued assets to the community.
"The importance of firefighters to the community is I think vastly understated,” said Chuck Bower, president of the Wilmington Professional Firefighters Association.  “We're an inexpensive insurance policy there's no doubt about it.  As a professional department what we bring to the citizens is difficult to even be measured in dollars and cents."
A letter sent to the Wilmington City Council by the Wilmington Professional Firefighters Association is asking them to put a value on their service outlining current firefighter pay in comparison to pay in the police department.
"A starting firefighters hourly wage is $9.53, a starting police officer makes more than that at $15.57,” said Bower.  “Would you honestly want to risk your life for $9.53 cents an hour because that's what they're asking Wilmington Firefighters to do."
Bower says that while making the Wilmington Fire Department the top paid department in the state is a dream he realizes that it is unrealistic, but he feels a state average salary is within reach.  However, Bower says that past proposals of a 2% raise just won’t cut it.
"A 2% raise for me as an employee of the City of Wilmington who has been here for over 12 years, 2% means $.26 an hour to me,” said Bower.  It just doesn't cover the bills, it doesn't cover the rising cost of health insurance, and it doesn't cover the rising cost of fuel.  Our starting wage has got to go up to at least what our mid-point is and I'm saying probably $13 an hour.  If we work towards average but then make a commitment to a long term sustainable continuation of growth and salaries if we can just maintain average or slightly above I think we would be pretty well off."
The letter sent by the Wilmington Professional Firefighters Association as sent to the Wilmington City Council is listed below:
This letter is written to you today to express some concerns and make a request of you.  It is our hope to meet with all of you at some point, but time constraints of the budget process make this letter necessary.  During Mayor Saffo’s State of the City Address there were many positive points.  It was unfortunate that there was no mention of the employee’s sacrifices or monetary losses.  There is no question that we are all thankful to have a job and we have done our part in getting through tough times.  But, we find it extremely difficult to believe that City Council and Management of this City consider employees a valued asset.  When discussing long term commitment to improvements for the City, incentives to businesses, the film industry and substantial growth of the unreserved fund balance, we wonder where we fit into the plan.
In short, we are talking about compensation, benefits and the lack of commitment by Management and Council to develop a long term solution.  In the past twelve years, studies conducted externally and internally by the City provide consistent results.  Executive salaries are well above average and rank and file employees are below average or last in comparable markets.  It is our firm belief that Department heads have been consistent in their attempts to inform the City Manager of the need for action.  But there seems to be a lack of conviction to fully apprise you of the situation.  Simply “looking into it” or requesting another study will not translate to any real action. There are past pay studies information available to you, and plenty of internal documents providing comparisons in pay.  We are reaching a critical mass, if there is not a committed long term funding solution for Firefighter compensation, we will forever be in last place.  A significant problem for you, but one that needs attention.  While top pay or above average would be nice, we think it is a reasonable assumption that Firefighters would be satisfied with average salaries.  Not below average or last.
In a City that tries so very hard to be tops in tourism, business climate and quality of life, it seems disingenuous to call Firefighters a valued asset and keep salaries among the lowest of comparable Cities. When are you going to seriously invest in those of us that have committed to making a career out of the City of Wilmington? 
In the particular case of our Department (Fire), the previous administration’s series of poor decisions and lack of action led to a stagnation in salaries.  Lack of adherence to the City’s own Personnel Policy #2, section III regarding periodic review of compensation, also compounded the problem.   Additionally, not fully funding actual recommendations of the last pay study struck a heavy blow.  As an example of the problems we are experiencing, ten years ago we had a $600.00 separation in starting salaries from the Police Department, now it’s $6000.00.  There is something very wrong with this salary gap.  With that in mind, we are not pleading a case for all City employees, we represent the rank and file Firefighters of the City of Wilmington and we need to be given some serious consideration.  Pay parity with the Police Department and full restoration of deferred compensation would be a start.  
In our research, other comparable municipalities have dealt with this very problem incrementally but consistently, so as not to devastate the budget.  We ask that you consider the same tactic.  Identify the lowest salaries and commit to funding and timeline for correction.  Each pay classification can be corrected this way and minimize the impact on the budget.  Surely we have the staff and resources to create and implement such a plan.  At this point, the last study by the Waters Consulting Group could be revisited, and the same formulas applied.  If it’s determined there has to be a study, our organization can provide analysis of Firefighter pay, at no cost to the City.  That might be oversimplification, but the point is we have the information and it is consistent with past and current studies.  We need a long term funding solution and commitment from Management and City Council.  With that being said, we fully understand that expansion in the budget would probably affect the taxpayers in the form of higher taxes.  A decision that needs to be made unless a more creative solution can be found.
A recent advertisement in our newspaper, two full pages, by a large local real estate company exclaimed that their sales were up 33% from last year.  Sales tax revenues are at or near the same levels as 10 years ago.  Housing starts are up and businesses are trying to relocate or expand here.  The City’s own news letter heralds the strength of the City’s finances including the substantial recovery of the City’s savings account.  Things are looking up and we would like to be foremost in your minds as you consider this year’s budget.
The level of commitment and professionalism that you receive from our Firefighters has led to consistently high rates of citizen satisfaction, a 98% satisfaction rate.  With each Firefighter you get;  Firefighter II, EMT-B, Hazardous Materials Operations, Rescue Tech., Water Rescue, Driver/Operator, Car seat Tech., Shipboard Firefighter.  Additionally, we have our daily duties of building and grounds maintenance, equipment checks and responding to calls for emergency service.  As time goes by, more certifications are required, advanced education is becoming a requirement, all with no corresponding incentives or increased pay.  The taxpaying Citizens of this community expect and receive a high level of professionalism from our Fire Department.  They receive that at bargain basement prices.  Although we would like top shelf compensation, getting us on a middle shelf in the light of day is a fine start. We are professionals, please compensate us accordingly.
In closing, we want to thank you for taking the time to hear or read our concerns.  Your path is a difficult one and you have served this community well in difficult times.  We just ask that you please make a commitment to those of us that make City Public Safety the success that it is.
Respectfully submitted,
Chuck Bower, President
Scott Hewett, 1st Vice President
Shannon Provencher, 2nd Vice President
Chris Chadwick, Treasurer
Norm Hinkle, Secretary
Wilmington Professional Firefighters Association

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57 Comments on "Wilmington firefighters union writes open letter to city council regarding pay"

2015 years 9 months ago

I agree that firefighters are just as important as police officers, seems like the law enforcement side pay needs to be adjusted to be more in line with the firefighters, this would help all concerned in these hard economic times.

2015 years 9 months ago

Our firefighters, police officers, and other city employees do a great job. Unfortunately, in this economic environment, the taxpayer has been rolled, spindled, and mutilated.

Remember the money squandered on a convention center. Remember the money squandered on the hubristic baseball stadium fiasco. Remember that that money could have provided raises for our firefighters, police officers, and other city employees.

Remember that at the next election.

Professional Firefighter
2015 years 9 months ago

Reno Guest, first of all I am somewhat at a lost on how to reply to your posts as they seem to be all over the place and make some very disconnected points. But I will try. From what I can gather you used to be a volunteer firefighter “somewhere”. Also you say that a “dirty farmer” volunteer firefighter once came to help you, and additionally, you do date yourself with the use of the term “rescue squad” and the fact that you say you quit being a volunteer firefighter when departments began offering Emergency Medical Service. So based on these limited facts alone, I am going to assume that you were a volunteer firefighter for a very small rural community about two decades ago.

What you were not was a highly trained, educated, career firefighter, serving a community of over 100,000 citizens, in today’s modern emergency response field. Including responding to such threats as the “average” fire, large commercial facilities storing, using, and transporting highly dangerous hazardous materials, a community with a large retirement population who are statistically more likely to suffer from a life threaten medical conditions, a highly compacted downtown and historic district with commercial and residential structures built closely together before modern fire codes, and construction methods and materials. A nationally recognized overburden traffic and street system with the highest rate of accidents in the state, a fast moving river and intracoastal waterway system with a large amount of recreational and commercial boat traffic, a large state port located in the middle of the city that stores and transports a large volume of hazardous materials and other commodities, and a post 9/11 world where the threat of a terrorist act, however small, exists for every community, especially one that has a university, a concentrated population, numerous large scale public events, and a state port.

For the sake of full-disclosure and honesty, I am one of those highly trained career firefighters who serve a large and vibrate community of over 100,000 people, and who is trained to help prevent and minimize the effects of these potential disasters and many others. Additionally, I am also trained and willing to help educate the children, seniors, and other members of our community groups the importance of fire prevention, as well as willing and able to install smoke detectors for those in our community who may be less fortunate than others, as well as insure that new parents, grandparents, family, and friends have their child safety seats properly installed so that we can prevent the needless death and injury that has been caused by the improper use of them. That is what I am, that is what I speak of, and that is what I do for $9.53 a hour because I have a desire to help others, a desire to have a rewarding career, and because I expect that the citizens I serve will recognize this fact and provide me with a living wage, and most importantly, to support me and my fellow firefighters in the eyes of our city leaders, instead of criticizing us based on some out-dated, and quite possibly, jaded opinions they formed during their years in a volunteer fire department, in some small rural area, two decades ago.

While I also do not believe in calling people names, (I am not going to say that you are stupid or an idiot), but I will say that you are un-informed about the history of today’s modern, career fire-service. And if you are not, then I am going to include the following “history lesson” for those who may be. During the 1970’s there was a large number of structure fires in almost every metropolitan community on almost a daily basis. It actually was jokily referred to as “urban renewal” by many within the fire service. The fire service recognized this fact and began pushing for stronger fire prevention laws and education, the use of modern fire-resisted construction materials, and the increased use and requirement of smoke detectors. These efforts, among others, helped to decrease the death and destruction caused by “fires”. With these increased responsibilities, as well as stagnant wages, firefighters began to call for higher wages. While you would think that elected officials and citizens would have rewarded them for their hard efforts to prevent fires, they actually listened to the “bean-counters” who said that firefighters were responding to less number of “fire” calls, so they must just be sitting around drinking coffee. So the fire service recognized a need and ability for them to help in regards to providing emergency medical care, and fire-based EMS was born to assist the “rescue squads”. Again, firefighters believed that they were under-paid for the increased services they were providing, and again, instead of thinking the fire service for increasing the number of lives that were being saved in a pre-hospital emergency setting, they again looked at the number of “fire” calls, which were still decreasing based on the fire service’s fire prevention efforts, and said that the firefighters must still be drinking coffee. This continued over and over again as the fire service worked to start and perform hazardous materials response, water rescue response, vehicle extrication response, confined space response, high-angle rescue response, fire education programs, and others, in order to better serve their citizens and to stop being criticized for drinking coffee.

Then in the immediate after-math of 9/11, 343 New York Firefighters put down their coffee cups and made the ultimate sacrifice, but again and again, the bean counters only looked at “fire” calls (you know what this is don’t you, it’s where a firefighter sprays water and then gets out of the way, in complete disregard for the occupants that may need rescuing, or any other hazards, such as ruptured gas lines, roof and floor collapse, flash-over, back-drafts, etc., etc., and if you can’t detect my sarcasm, let me just say that the “fire” was the least concern for the FDNY on that fateful day). But with all of these additional sacrifices and responsibilities, all of which is in service to our community, we still find that our highly trained and dedicated public servants are under-paid, and they only make $9.53 an hour for all that they do. Instead of supporting them, you and others look to criticize them. Including criticizing them for taking a couple of minutes every now and then to have a cup of coffee, and discuss with their “brothers and sisters in service” something a little more light-hearted then seeing a dead baby at a traffic accident, a young mother killed in a house fire, or a grandfather who died from a heart attack after all of their hard efforts to save him. Or maybe to take a second to make a call home to tell their family that they love them, miss them, and sorry they cannot be there for Christmas morning, sorry that they cannot tuck their children into bed, and to tell their loved one to keep holding down the fort for the next 24 hours, every third day, until they can safely return home again!!!!

Now let’s address the “cushy” schedule the firefighters seem to have according to some people who have never taking the time to fully understand it. It goes without saying that the fire department is opened 24/7, 365. That comes to 8,760 hours a year firefighters must be on duty. With three shifts of firefighters working, that comes to a firefighter working 2,920 hours a year, while the average 40 hour a week employee only works 2,080 hours a year. That means that a firefighter works an average of 56 hours a week, or eight hours a day, every day, 365 days a year, including Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July, New Years, their children’s birthday, their wedding anniversary, etc., etc., etc. For those of you who may say “yea, but I work 60 hours a week at my job”, remember you get paid time and a half for those additional 20 hours, while firefighters have a special overtime exemption written into federal law that says they do not get paid overtime until they work MORE THEN the 56 hours a week average. And if you are not making time and a half then either your employer is breaking the law, or you own your own business and get to reap the rewards of your hard work (unlike firefighters who have reduced the number of deaths and injuries from fires, heart attacks, hazardous materials spills, etc., etc., etc., yet see no rewards for their actions), all of which is a separate discussion for a separate time. That is the true definition of their “cushy” schedule, all for $9.53 an hour.

Let’s also be very clear when we define what we are discussing here. We are discussing the woefully low salaries of Wilmington Firefighters when compared to their pears throughout the state. A figure that has been showed time and time again, by numerous studies, both internally and externally, to be almost disgraceful when compared to other municipalities. We are not talking about a volunteer fire department in Brunswick County, a rescue squad in Pender County, “my old department up north”, the ISO ratings in Timbuktu, or any of the other topics people seem to want to bring up to redirect and redefine the discussion (which is a very old debate principal used by someone who cannot effectively debate the original topic). We are talking about the woefully below average pay of firefighters here in a community of over 100,000 people, that answered over 10,000 calls for service last year, that provides fire response, emergency medical response, hazardous materials response, extrication response, confined space rescue response, high angle rescue response, water rescue response, marine firefighting response, WMD response, in addition to fire prevention, smoke detector installation, child safety seat installation, and fire education to the children in our schools.

We are talking about professional firefighters that must complete 240 hours a year of training to maintain their firefighter certification, in addition to continuing educational requirements to maintain their certifications in Emergency Medical Care, hazardous materials training, rescue training, water rescue training, marine firefighting training, WMD training, etc., etc., etc., and those who are working to obtain their Associates Degree in Fire Science so that they can be recognized as the professionals that they already are, while responding to a call for service about every 45 minutes on average, department wide. Now if you think that all they do is drink coffee then you must not have a good understanding of how many hours there are in a day, or you just refuse to change your out-dated thinking of today’s modern, professional, career firefighter. And if you honestly think that a group of “volunteers” can provide this same level of service, that an employer would allow their employee to leave and go “volunteer” every 45 minutes when they are at work, that they same volunteer would get out of bed every 45 minutes, 365 days a year, and that they would attend training 4 hours a night, every night of the year including weekends and holidays, while working to get an Associate’s Degree, then you really do not have an understanding of what the trained, professional, career, firefighters of the Wilmington Fire Department do!!!!!

But remember, when you or your loved ones need one of them, they will put their cup of coffee down and be there for you, they will give you the highest level of service they can, they will continue to miss holidays, weekends, birthdays, anniversaries, and family reunions to help you, and if you can’t at least find it in your heart to say thank you once in a while, that’s OK too, because they do it for the love of their fellow citizens, and they do it because they believe that they truly are their brother’s keeper.

2015 years 9 months ago

Hello everyone,

For those of you career firefighters who are reading my post, this might sting a little. I am a career FF in the Pacific NW. I recently quit my Union, yes, you heard me, I quit the Union, not my job. Why? Was it selfish? Was it because I didn’t want to spend the money on dues? Was it because I am disgruntled over Union related business? A “brother” screwed my wife? The answer to all of those questions and many more which assume I am a trader and the ultimate pariah is a resounding NO! I quit because we’re ripping off the public and I won’t be party to the charade anymore. More importantly, I am not paying to have many of the laziest people I have ever met in a truly cushy job!

Here’s the truth about 60-75% of all firefighters; they’re lazy, selfish and they don’t fight fire…much…if at all! I quit my union because of the first two character flaws listed above. The third one is the truth which dispels an on-going myth perpetuated by the International Union (IAFF) to convince the public that we are an expense the public simply can not live without. Private Ambulance Companies are doing our real “jobs” better, faster and cheaper. Private Fire Departments could use that model for Fire and Rescue operations, that’s a fact, not an opinion. I say cheaper, because private industry will only bill the people who call them to use their services. Think private school vs public schools; whose kids are being better educated? Truth be told, we don’t go to work and run into burning structures on a regular basis. The fact is that 80-90% the the calls career firefighters respond to, regardless of whether the department is a city, a suburban or a rural, are medical in nature.

In my agency, the average salary for a top step FF (three years into their career) is $75k, the average firefighters beyond that time and whom are not ALts (acting Lieutenants) is $82k, beyond that, the promotional hard bar positions, LT, Cpt, and BC average ~$90-110k! That doesn’t include their “second” jobs almost all FF maintain. I bet the average annual household salary for a firefighter is upwards of $125K here on the West Coast. Here’s the real kicker, I only paid 50 bucks a month last year to provide, arguably the best, medical/dental coverage to me , my wife and my two kids (plus, I get $6k per year deposited into an HSA account to cover co-pays, braces and the like). You would think for that level of salary and benefits, you would be getting healthy, fit and motivated men and women responding to your emergency. Yet, the FF I work with bitch and moan about getting up to respond to calls at three AM, even if all they did throughout the day was to sit in the, always present, recliners and watched 8 hours of the NFL . The truth….over 40-50% of career firefighters in this country are fat and out of shape. The greatest cause of death to an American career firefighter is related to cardiovascular disease. This is not caused by “on the job risks” and should only be considered a presumptive illness because most firefighters over-eat, smoke/chew, drink too much and exercise too little!

Here’s more reasons to play a violin for all us “heros”! The typical career FF schedule is 24 on 48 off, plus 8-12 days vacation, plus 16 days of Kelly Days (an extra day off to balance out a 40 hour work week). Here’s the math using the above schedule as the criteria: 365 days per year divided by 3 (we work once every three days)=~122 days minus 10 vacation days=~112 days worked, but let’s not forget about ol’ Kelly, 113-16= 96 days worked per year or 2,304 hours per year (excluding an avg of 4 “sick” days used per year for the American firefighter).

That alone does not sound all that luxurious for us FF, it’s actually quite typical for an American worker. Let’s put that on the standard of the poor working stiff fighting traffic everyday: that’s about a 9 hour day, five days per week for 52 weeks. Most Americans work between 2,040 and 2,080 hours annually. Now, let’s factor in why I am disgusted with many career firefighters I know: there are many nights we sleep all night, watch TV all day, wash our trucks, throw the football, play around on the internet, etc. How many other professionals, making nearly six figures, can come to work, turn on every light and t.v. in the place, throw a brisket on a (union supplied) smoker, and work out in the (Department provided) gym? Not many!

Here’s where I am coming from, I worked in the private sector for 18 years before earning my dream job as a fireman; now I am embarrassed at how many spoiled brats with whom I “work”! We are our own worst enemies and the Unions are only serving to facilitate us cannibalizing ourselves!

2015 years 9 months ago

Hear Hear…….
That has GOT to be the post of the day.

Nicely said



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