make WWAY your homepage  Become a fan on facebook  Follow us on twitter  Receive RSS Newsfeeds  MEMBERS: Register | Login

Wilmington firefighters union writes open letter to city council regarding pay

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

Disclaimer: Comments posted on this, or any story are opinions of those people posting them, and not the views or opinions of WWAY NewsChannel 3, its management or employees. You can view our comment policy here.


Same old story. I know

Same old story. I know firefighters families think they are worth more than they are being paid which is probably true. But you have to look at your personal situation and make adjustments when necessary.There is a firefighter in my neighborhood who supplements his income with a lawn business. Look at other areas in the state that pay more money. Try to move up to higher positions in the dept that pay more money.You can not rely on other people to look out for you. I have been through this same situation with the state of NC after 17 years of service. If you feel that you are worth more just leave.

Well you go work 24 hours,

Well you go work 24 hours, be up all night long at a working fire. Go home and change, go out and cut lawns all day. Get up the next day and work another 24 hours. Try that day in and day out. I awm away from my famliy a lot. On holidays, brithdays, deaths in the famliys and alot more that you can not think of. I am a firefighter and I did not become a payed firefighter to be rich. I got in to doing this for the love of the job and helping out. This is not like working at Walmart. We can not just get up and move to another city for a job. If we could the city of wilmington would be with out firefighters. If you have to work two or three jobs to pay the bills that is crazy. Lets look at the price of a old house. It is around 120,000.00 Can a new firefighter makeing 9.45 per houre live here? Hell no. Look at food coast going up and up with gas. I was reading the comments and one person state his son make more then a new firefighter. I can beleve that. Pay these guys!!

Love of the Job


You should of factored those things you claim into your decision making process before you VOLUNTARILY signed your name to the application.

You have my sympathy, but not my empathy.

Don't like what comes with the gig, quit.

"what we bring to the

"what we bring to the citizens is difficult to even be measured in dollars and cents"

As someone who has lived through the experience of both a house fire and a car fire I can attest to the fact that what these men and women do are invaluable. You cannot put a price on what they do, but you could at least pay them a decent wage commiserate with the service they provide. I have made more than $9.53 an hour as a secretary and I have never had to put my life on the line for my job. If the Mayor and City Council were willing to shell out an obscene amount of money for an unnecessary stadium, they can certainly shell out the money to decently compensate the firefighters for their services.

Pay increase deserved

These firefighters put their lives on the line. The city should pay them what they deserve and quit funding useless projects like an unwanted baseball stadium!

The pay is appropriate, and here's why:

Wilmington firefighters, as well as most other firefighters work 24 hour shifts. They get to sleep on the job, and they only work a few days per week. Many work other FULL TIME jobs, or run their own businesses on the side, so they get two paychecks.

It's a pretty cushy job if you take a really hard look at it. And there's no shortage of people lining up for the job openings.

Brian's Idea of Cushy 24 Shifts

Brian have you actually sat down and done the math of what a 24 hour shift actually means? It means evey third day you are gone - period. Doesn't matter if it is weekend, Christmas, ballgame, etc. A 24 hour shift means that you miss and give up 1 full year of your lives with your wife and children every three years. By the time your kids are 18 you have missed six years of their lives. By time you retire with 30 years of service, your wife has been without you for 10 of those years.

We only sleep at the discretion of he citizens we protect. If we are needed for 24 hours, we are up and working 24 hours. I imagine you lay down at night expecting to get to sleep all night. Try spending 30 years having your sleep cycles trashed.

As for working second jobs, your right - we are just like you. We like having groceries, paying for our kids to play sports or have hobbys, we like to occasionally go a vacation. I find it sad that this does not even come close to describing the sacrifice given every day for you in this state. but what is truly amazing is that one of those firefighters would not hesitate to step into a burning building and bring you out even if they knew how you felt about them.

Well Brian, Are you away from your family for 24hrs at a time?

These men and women are away from their families too much! They miss holidays, birthdays, seeing they're kids grow up. All to protect people just like you! They're not asking to get rich. They're asking to at least be equal. They MUST work second jobs just to live in this area. I hope your house never catches on fire or you or your family never has an emergency.


Local 129...

While you have my sympathy, you do not have my empathy. Everyone of you guys knew what you were signing up for when you filled out your applications. Most, if not all, have second and third jobs while the firefighting "gig" is used soley for the benefits package. Not to mention the wives, husbands, boyfriends and girlfriends that also work, bringing in additional salary.

The firefighters of Wilmingon Local 129 should be thankful the city leaders and managers are not deactivating firehouses or shutting down companies, laying off firemen, to offset expenses. What amazes me is how North Carolina is a right to work state and the firemen that are associated with Local 129 or those who signed this letter are still gainfully employed.

Maybe the money the city and county fire departments are spending to recieve "accredidation" would be better spent on managing the fire department instead of the "dog and pony" show called the fire department. Better yet, how about the city and county hire some firefighters and not a bunch of yard breathers who think darken up leather helmets is a "badge of honor." Or maybe some investigators that are qualified and certified as investigators.

Oh yeah, shouldn't the hospital or police department be doing child safety seats? Since most people have babies in a hospital and the police are the only one's with law enforcement capabilities. Was the city attorney or legal department even awake to miss that liability?

Did you know the city and county fire chiefs have never worked a day as career firemen but are in charge of career fire departments?

These guys work 24 hours on,

These guys work 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, then 4 days off. Many of us can't even fathem what it would be like to work this kind of schedule. 24 hours at a time spent away from their families to keep all of us safe... Missing valuable moments on holidays with children... Getting woke up in the middle of the night to go to a fire or assist EMS in an emergency... GIVE THESE HEROS A RAISE!!!

As a taxpayer to both the City and County...

I wouldn't mind seeing these folks get a pay raise. While there are some who might comment about the fact that they work 2 days/week, that's not the point.

The City could have funded one heckuva a pay raise with all of the money the spent on stadium studies and continue to spend on other studies and consultants. I've often wondered why the City has all of their highly-paid staff who apparently don't have the expertise in most areas which require the spending of MY money and YOUR money on consultants. If the staff can't figure out a problem, then get rid of them and hire staff that can.

Firefighters work

Contrary to belief firefighters do not work only two days a week.

Most weekly workers work just over 2000 hours a year. Firefighters work 2916 hours a year, over 900 hours than a normal worker. Yes, it 24 hours a day.

2 days a week.....u Havnt

2 days a week.....u Havnt got a clue, try 240 hours a month! Do the research.

They may only work "2" days

They may only work "2" days a week, they work 48 hrs a week.

Stadium -vs- fire protection

You said EXACTLY what I was thinking when reading your post!!! Thanks!!! It doesn't make sense to me that so much money and the time of our leaders (which translates to dollars unaccounted for) was spent all in the name of a new stadium in Wilmington. The people had their say about that and ended up shooting it down after hundreds of thousands of OUR tax dollars were already spent. Seems we have no say however in compensating our community first responders who put their lives in potential danger every day to save our lives and our property. Shame on the warped values of our leaders at the cost of OUR hard earned tax dollars!!!!

Firefighter hours

Usually three days and do you understand two 24 hour shifts mean 48 hours per week?

"I've often wondered why the

"I've often wondered why the City has all of their highly-paid staff who apparently don't have the expertise in most areas which require the spending of MY money and YOUR money on consultants"....

Here's why:

Work days.

Just to clarify; Firefighters(WFD Firefighters)do not work just two days a week. They work 24 hour shifts with a day off in between.
The 40 hour a week employee works 2080 hours a year. They are off for 16 hours in a twenty four hour period.

Firefighters on the hand, work 2400 hours a year.

Firefighter salaries

It is a shame to see this where the firefighters have to beg to get a raise and others get it so easy.One case was the golf coarse mgr was going to leave and the city gave him a nice $5000.00 bonus to stay.Other situations are like why does the new fire chief need so many new management positions,like CHief of training,with several Captains working under him.Chief of communitee involvement and a public information Chief.And what I understand is the Chief is going to ask for a deputy Chiefs position.Maybe city council should look at how top heavy this department is compared to other city departments this size. It looks like this new Chief has a lot of people fooled by what he is doing.We have some great firefighters in the city department but don't want to advance under this style of leadership.

as a concerned citizen, I'd like to suggest

that they could accommodate this request without raising taxes by a review of executive compensation and bringing it more into line with comparable municipalities, similar to the review that New Brunswick County is now undertaking.

Firefighters pay

Amen! My husband has been a loyal,devoted and underpaid Wilmington firefighter for 15 years. He has seen and heard most everything unimaginable, has seen children die, elderly suffer from abuse, home burned and lives destroyed. Each day he goes into work not knowing if he will come home to his wife and children. He does this job, 24 hour shifts, weekends and holidays because he has a passion for helping others. The pay for all of this is roughly $14.00 an hour. Thats for 15 years of service, countless certifications and low moral. I hope that city council will finally address this situation. Wilmington fire is simply a training ground then the younger recruits go else where for higher pay. At least make the pay comparable, middle of the road as such. Theinot asking for much, just equal pay.

They are professionals. Pay them as such.

It is outrageous that the city officials expect these men and women to put their lives on the line each time an alarm sounds. As I have heard one 14 year firefighter say " when I get on that truck ( to respond to a call) I know that no matter what kind of a terrible day I may be having the person on the other end of the call is having the worst day of their life. My focus is totally on what I am doing."
The dedication by these firefighters is amazing. Feeling good about what one does is great but it does not pay the bills.
These professionals deserve great compensation but are willing to settle for "adequate". They should not have to beg for that.
God bless each and everyone of them.
Shame on the city leaders.

Sounds like your husband

Sounds like your husband should have found a different career a long time ago.

Right on the MONEY!

It is a sad state of affairs when it takes a publicized letter to possibly get a decent response from the city.
God Bless our Firefighters!!!!
They deserved to be well paid and have their much needed training and schooling provided for them!!!

This is a right to work

This is a right to work state. If you are not pleased with your amount of compensation please quit and find another job that will pay more.

Yep, you're right. It's a

Yep, you're right. It's a sad state of affairs when people of this community are supporting a labor union....most have been complaining that labor unions were part if not all of the problem. If firefighters feel they aren't earning enough money then maybe they need to find another job or get a second job, most people are aware of the pay scale/rate before accepting a job.


Chuck, this was a well written. Since you know me you know that while I have been around the fire service in New Hanover County for many years, you also know that I decided early on not to make a full time career of it (partly because of some of the things you identified above).

That being said, I have watched the WFD grow and mature in many ways over the past 20 years. Rembering when folks like Robinson, Williams, Graftis, Smith (and many others) were buck private firefighters and to see them now as BCs and Captains managing the day to day emergencies for the citizens of Wilmington…… well it has made me a better person just for having known and worked with them.

The task of trying to convey what was in your letter is certainly one that I don’t envy. Sometimes your success is your failure….being able to maintain an excellent ISO rating, deal with budget cuts, handle all of the needs of the citizens all while “doing more with less” unfortunately makes many decision makers complacent and well….lethargic. I hope that your words won’t fall on deaf ears. Places like Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro and other similar fire departments would give anything to grab up first class folks that Wilmington didn’t take care of. I would pay more in taxes without hesitation if I knew the NHC Fire folks would get paid as they should, I have to believe that citizens in Wilmington feel the same way.