Friday, April 25, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Part 2: Firefighter salaries don’t tell the whole story

MtDemoTemplate

By
From page A1 | March 17, 2011 | 3 Comments

Part one of this three-part series described fire district funding inequities in El Dorado County and the status of a proposed regional consolidation. Part two explores how districts across the county are struggling to get smaller, the history of the funding inequities and how salaries compare across districts. Part three will look at the west slope fire districts individually, and report how the aid-to-fire cuts will affect the rural districts.

Compensation for those we call when our house is on fire, the the men and women who walk into our burning forests, pull our kids from mangled cars and come to our parents’ assistance when they’ve fallen and can’t get up, varies widely across the county, as does the fiscal condition of the districts that employ them.

Despite all the training required and the inherent dangers, it’s a job to which thousands of young men and women aspire. Many graduate from California fire academies each year, but most never make it to the fire house. Many don’t survive the intense paramedic training, rigorous testing or the scrutiny of the background check.

Latrobe Chief Chris Couper employs four recent graduates, whom he jokingly calls “indentured servants.”

“The wage is low, but it’s a foot in the door for them,” he said by phone.

In 2009, Latrobe’s highest paid part-timer made $31,200.

In the past, Couper had a hard time filling those positions. These days, there are plenty of applicants when he has an opening.

A recent survey by the National League of Cities found that fire agencies across the country are shrinking. An informal survey of fire chiefs on the West Slope confirms that El Dorado County is no different.

They won’t leave

The El Dorado Hills Fire Board recently upped a $50,000 exit incentive to $75,000 or two years CalPERS credit for any firefighter who resigns or retires.

Most of the takers thus far have been chiefs already primed for retirement. One captain threatened with termination for alleged disciplinary troubles also availed himself of the exit incentive.

Firefighters won handsome salaries, favorable work shifts and spectacular benefits in recent years, all of which had made them increasingly intransigent.

In California the groundwork for the retirement plans which firefighters and other government workers now enjoy — benefits that are currently being scrutinized nationwide — was laid in 1999 when SB 400 sailed through the California Legislature virtually unopposed. It increased retirement benefits for firefighters and law enforcement to 3 percent of the employee’s top annual salary for each year worked, eligible at the barely-grey-at-the-temples age of 50.

The bill’s sponsors predicted at the time that the cost of the bill would be $650 million in 2010, according to Adam Summers, a policy analyst for the Reason Foundation. The actual 2010 cost was $3.3 billion, according to a recent CalPERS press release.

CalPERS lost $56.2 billion for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2009. As a result, CalPERS contributions jumped to 28 percent of each firefighter’s salary last year, according to CalPERS. Many district officials remember when CalPERS was funded entirely through its investments.

Not all shifts are created equal

Paid firefighters in El Dorado County work 24-hour days in various combinations. Most districts have adopted a “two-on, four-off” work schedule known as a “48-96” shift, which consists of two consecutive 24-hour shifts, followed by four consecutive days off. It averages out to 56 hours per week.

Cameron Park has outsourced its fire and ambulance duties to CalFire, whose members work an extra day before their “four off” each week. The resulting “three-on, four-off” schedule totals 72 hours per week.

Georgetown Fire works a “traditional Kelly” shift, alternating three non-consecutive 24 hour work shifts with two 24-hour and one 96-hour off shifts.

Salary comparisons

Comparing overall compensation packages for fire districts is tricky business The districts work different shift schedules at different pay rates with varying overtime and bonus opportunities. See sidebar All shifts are not created equal on page 1.

The state Controller’s Office reports salary information from cities, counties and special districts annually and provides a foundation for comparing fire service compensation levels. The most recent reports are for calendar year 2009.

A quick perusal of the reports confirms El Dorado Hills’ position at the top of the payroll ladder in El Dorado County. They also make it abundantly clear that stated salary ranges don’t tell the whole compensation story.

Public sector employee retirement benefits have received a lot of attention recently. But actual earnings, before benefits, can stretch 50 percent or more beyond base salary. The maximum salary for an El Dorado Hills firefighter/paramedic in 2009 was $79,956, according to the State Controller’s Office, but they earned, on average $108,317.

Salary bloat is even more pronounced as you climb the salary ladder. The maximum salary for an El Dorado Hills captain was $105,144 in 2009, but their actual earnings averaged $157,469. One made $196,000.

El Dorado Hills interim Fire Chief Jim O’Camb explained that much of the overage is overtime paid by the state for participation in summer strike forces. The balance is overtime for shift coverage and education bonuses.

Overtime is less prevalent in rural fire districts, where staffing requirements are lower. An engine commonly operated by two firefighters in most of the county requires four at El Dorado Hills Station 87.

Volunteers play a greater role in day-to-day operations in rural districts, where flexible employee agreements let the chiefs use their volunteers and part-timers in creative ways.

In Diamond Springs, resident firefighter programs regularly put fully trained and qualified local businessmen on fire engines and in ambulances.

“These guys won’t take any money,” said Chief Todd Cunningham. “It’s a point of pride with them. They’re doing it to serve their community.”

Cunningham offers a variety of volunteer programs. Some pay stipends to career-minded volunteers, others, like the resident firefighter program, target altruistic locals.

Diamond Springs-El Dorado’s paid firefighter-paramedics’ maximum salary is $84,340. They took home, on average, $94,799 in 2009.

By comparison, El Dorado County Fire’s firefighter paramedics’ maximum salary was $75,042. They took home, on average, $83,276.

Rescue’s salaries are lower, but reflect a similar jump from maximum salary, $55,993 to actual takehome, $73,877.

The Pioneer Fire District listed three firefighter-paramedics in the 2009 report. They averaged $70,836 on a $56,734 maximum salary.

Chief salaries vary with district size and budget, with former El Dorado Hills Chief Brian Veerkamp firmly on top at $232,049 in 2009. El Dorado County Fire Chief Bruce Lacher took second with $161,202. Rescue Fire Chief Tom Keating made $118,238.

CalFire Battalion Chief Joe Tyler calls the shots in Cameron Park. He made $109,661 in 2009.

Garden Valley Chief Bill Dekker made $100,975. Pioneer Chief Robert Gill made $91,513. Only Georgetown Chief Greg Schwab left anything on the table, earning $87,102 of a $97,702 maximum salary.

The Mosquito Fire Protection District didn’t file salary information with the state. Chief Bob Davis, who wears several hats at the small district that’s had some big fires, reported by phone that he makes $61,000 per year.

Latrobe Fire Chief Chris Couper takes no salary.

Next time Part 3: West Slope fire district details.

mroberts@mtdemocrat.net

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 3 comments

  • Sacramento area FirefighterMarch 19, 2011 - 1:38 pm

    You can publish all of the numbers that you want. The anual salaries are high because of understaffing.....OVERTIME....It is cheaper long term to pay overtime than to pay salaries plus benefits for a new firefighter. YOU DO THE MATH....PERS retirement is messed up because they gave a safety retirement to non police and fire. Do you want a young firefighter/cop or an old, out of shape firefighter/cop to respond to you house when needed?

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • sexykittenApril 26, 2011 - 1:49 am

    OMG, some of the BEST firefighters and COPS are the ones who are "older". So, that's what this comes down to? Older vs younger? Are you friggin serious? How ignorant can you possibly be? Older means more experienced. Less risky. Wiser. More self control. More disciplined. The younger firefighters and cops RELY on older ones to recruit, train and show they how to stay alive. And by the way, some of the OLDER cops and firefighters are in BETTER shape than many of the younger, undisciplined stay out all night getting drunk and running around fire and police officers. Get real.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • DavidSeptember 14, 2012 - 11:26 am

    Any job where you can sleep on the job should not allow for overtime.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
.

News

Heard over the back fence: Advice offered writers

By Bob Billingsley | From Page: B1

 
Big marijuana find in EDH

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1, 1 Comment | Gallery

Jury: Sanford guilty of murder

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1, 2 Comments | Gallery

 
Initiative seeks roundabout vote

By Wendy Schultz | From Page: A1, 2 Comments

 
Sheriff cracking down on Tahoe pot grows

By Tahoe Tribune | From Page: A3

 
Burn permits required May 1

By Cal Fire | From Page: A7

County backs task force to reduce human trafficking

By Chris Daley | From Page: A13

 
5 years prison for child porn

By News Release | From Page: A14

A victim tells her story

By Chris Daley | From Page: A14

 
.

Opinion

 
Income inequality

By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A4, 2 Comments

Billingsley’s Bullets: Marriage makes me laugh

By Bob Billingsley | From Page: A4

 
.

Letters

What happened to ‘fair and balanced?’

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 14 Comments

 
Red tape

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

Is Ukraine in Asia, Europe or Latin America?

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 20 Comments

 
Vote for Parlin

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

County and ‘Miwoks’ getting together

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
Ray Nutting’s donation for DA

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 7 Comments

.

Sports

 
Brown leads Golden Sierra

By Rebecca Reddish | From Page: A9

Cougars 1, Grizzlies 1

By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A9

 
Cougars capitalize against Union Mine

By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A9 | Gallery

Troy unpends Davis

By Brandon Anicich | From Page: A9 | Gallery

 
El Dorado wins tri-meet

By Mike Bush | From Page: A9 | Gallery

D’backs drop the ‘Hammer’

By Mike Bush | From Page: A9

 
El Dorado spikers blank D’backs

By Mike Bush | From Page: A10

Roundup: April 23, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A10

 
On tap

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A10

.

Prospecting

Amazing production brings the curtain down for Pete Miller

By Pat Lakey | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Things to do: April 25, 2014

By Democrat Calendar | From Page: B2

Cool Beerwerks is very cool

By Krysten Kellum | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Placerville celebrates Earth Day

By News Release | From Page: B3

Handcar Derby to get pumping

By Folsom Handcar Derby | From Page: B3

 
IT presents a Reader’s Theater of ‘Our Town’

By Imagination Theater | From Page: B4 | Gallery

Enjoy spring with Steiner Road wineries

By Steiner Road Wineries | From Page: B4

 
Art and brew are a perfect pair

By News Release | From Page: B5

Spring cleaning is good

Press Release | From Page: B5, 1 Comment

 
Pinewood Derby rolls at Kniesel’s

Press Release | From Page: B6

The Sacramento Music Festival celebrates world-class music

By Sacramento Music Festival | From Page: B12

 
Oak Ridge Boys come to TJ’s Corral

By Carson Valley Inn | From Page: B13

Folsom hosts Spring Antique Fair

By Folsom Historic District Association | From Page: B13

 
Viviana Guzman performs at Petroglyphe Gallery

By Petroglyphe Gallery | From Page: B13

Pioneer Jews of the Gold rush

By Folsom History | From Page: B14, 1 Comment

 
Time to join the El Dorado Community Concert Association

By El Dorado Community Concert Association | From Page: B14

.

Essentials

.

Obituaries

Frances Estelle Gilluly Fraulob

By Contributor | From Page: A2

 
Dorothy L. Irvin

By Contributor | From Page: A2

Jeanine Rae Henderson-Hodges

By Contributor | From Page: A2

 
Thomas David Ewing

By Contributor | From Page: A2

John Lawrence Olson

By Contributor | From Page: A2

 
Jack O’Camb

By Contributor | From Page: A2

Wesley M. Nyquist

By Contributor | From Page: A2

 
.

Real Estate

Spring statistics suggest slower sales

By Ken Calhoon | From Page: HS4

 
Time to spring outdoors and fix them up

By Marni Jameson | From Page: HS7

Nation’s existing home sales remain soft

Press Release | From Page: HS20

 
.

Comics

Working It Out

By Contributor | From Page: A11

 
Sudoku

By Contributor | From Page: A11

TV Listings

By Contributor | From Page: A11

 
Speed Bump

By Contributor | From Page: A11

Tundra

By Contributor | From Page: A11

 
Shoe

By Contributor | From Page: A11

Rubes

By Contributor | From Page: A11

 
Horoscope, Friday, April 25, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A12

New York Times Crossword

By Contributor | From Page: A12

 
Horoscope, Sunday, April 27, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A12

Horoscope, Saturday, April 26, 2104

By Contributor | From Page: A12

 
.

Home Source

Spring statistics suggest slower sales

By Ken Calhoon | From Page: HS4

Time to spring outdoors and fix them up

By Marni Jameson | From Page: HS7

Nation’s existing home sales remain soft

Press Release | From Page: HS20