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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

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4/28/2013 10:00:00 PM
SMOLDERING ISSUE: Local firefighters paid less than market average
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
CLICK HERE to open this chart in new window
CLICK HERE to open this chart in new window
Lisa Irish
The Daily Courier

Average pay for Prescott and Central Yavapai Fire District firefighters is 18 percent less than Phoenix firefighters, 15 percent less than the market average, and 7 percent less than the average of 20 fire districts serving similarly-sized populations outside of Maricopa County.

Two firefighters, who asked that their names not be used, said they're paid less than other fire agencies, lower than the average, and health insurance premium increases seriously reduced take home pay.

"I can't think of a firefighter that doesn't work a second job to make ends meet," one said.

The other noted it been a long time since they've seen a raise or cost of living adjustment, "just like everyone else."

Prescott Fire Department Engineer Dan Bates said local firefighters raise their families here, volunteer in the area and are honored to serve their communities.

"As anyone, we would like fair market compensation for our skills, education, hard work and dedication," said Bates, president of the Prescott Chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3066. "We don't want that as a cost of changing what Prescott is or seeing city services collectively decline."

Local districts nearly even

Fire agencies strive to recruit and retain firefighters with competitive salaries and benefits, but must balance that with revenue limitations and budget needs, CYFD EMS Captain David Tharp said.

"We are all grateful for what we get paid and for our jobs," said Tharp, president of the CYFD Chapter of the IAFF Local 3066 - United Yavapai Firefighters Union.

The average midpoint salary for a Prescott firefighter is $46,956, while a CYFD firefighter earns $46,208 on average, 86.8 percent and 85.4 percent, respectively, of the market average firefighter salary of $54,059. A Phoenix firefighter's average midpoint salary is $55,726, 103 percent of the market average. (See accompanying tables.)

Market averages were drawn from a City of Phoenix 2011 total compensation study report comparing many positions, including firefighting, among government entities and the private sector, Tharp said.

The percentage for similarly sized districts was drawn from a 2012 Bullhead City wage and benefit survey of all fire districts greater than $150,000,000 assessed valuation and population between 30,000 to 70,000 outside of Maricopa County, which compares Prescott Fire to similarly-sized agencies in similar areas of the state, Bates said.

Although fire districts are paid for through property taxes while city fire departments are funded by sales taxes, both Prescott and CYFD have starting salary ranges within $1,000 of each other and average salaries within 5 percent.

The last wage study for Prescott Fire was done in July 2006, all city employees received a 3.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment in 2007, and all raises have been frozen since 2008, Bates said.

There was talk about the possibility of a cost-of-living increase for all city employees in fiscal year 2014, but no decision has been made, Bates said.

Prescott City Manager Craig McConnell said personnel pay adjustments will be considered during the formulation of the city's fiscal year 2014 budget.

"We are continuing to meet with departments through the end of April, after which the tentative revenues and expenses will be rolled up to determine the city's projected financial position for Fiscal Year 2014," McConnell said. "This preliminary information will be presented to the City Council on May 7, at which time, with the benefit of the overall financial picture, employee compensation is also anticipated to be discussed. The May 7 session will be followed by the annual budget workshop to be scheduled for later in May."

At CYFD, the last wage study was 2007, firefighters received a 4 percent cost of living increase, and all wage increases were frozen in 2008. In 2012, the CYFD Board of Directors approved merit increases, Tharp said.

Chino gets a raise

On April 18, the Chino Valley Fire District Board of Directors voted to lift a step-based pay plan starting in July, allowing many firefighters to receive pay raises that have been on hold for several years.

Chino Valley firefighters last increase, for one-half of a pay step, happened midway through the 2010-11 fiscal year. Before that, firefighters last wage adjustment was in 2006.

"We come to the job because we love to serve the public, but money is a factor," said Cody Rose, Chino Valley Fire District union chapter president who presented the proposal. "Guys that haven't had an increase in a while are happy to hear this."

In his presentation, Rose said the 2012-13 fiscal-year budget had been training-heavy, but much of the training was now done.

"Overall our budget has been decreased by over $90,000," Rose said. "So we can take that money and invest it back into our firefighters. We're not increasing our tax base at all."

Retention was a big factor in requesting the board to use $84,000 for firefighter pay, Rose said.

"In the past eight years, we haven't had a single cost of living increase, and by approving this money tonight it shows that we value them and their training," Rose said. "It's an investment back into our district. We don't want these well-trained guys going over to neighboring departments for more money."

The downturn in the economy and decline in sales taxes led the city to make changes in benefits and overtime to maintain salaries and prevent layoffs, Bates said.

The City of Prescott strives to be within 5 percent of the average mid-point of salaries, but is below that for firefighters, engineers and captains, while most upper positions meet the standard, Bates said.

Other assignment pay benefits decreased, saving CYFD about $978,000 over three years, Tharp said.

Health insurance premiums that employees paid increased, as they have for many people, by as much as 23 percent and the deductible rose from $1,500 to $5,000 annually, and retirement contributions increased, Tharp said.

"Due to spouses losing jobs, businesses closing, and increases in the cost of living for the area, many firefighters had to endure losing their houses, claiming bankruptcy, and other financial hardships, just like other community members," Tharp said.

Many firefighters sought second jobs to help with the increasing costs of gas, food, utilities, and health care, Bates said.

"Our morale, while not always positive, was focused on providing the best service to the community despite increased service demands and helping the organization financially by doing more for less," Tharp said. "We continue with that attitude today."

Urban versus rural

Rural firefighters often make less than urban firefighters because of competition, candidates and retention, Tharp said.

"In the Phoenix area, numerous fire departments in close proximity make for a supply-versus-demand situation," Tharp said. "Competing for qualified personnel will lead organizations to offer enticing wage and benefit packages. The workload and occupational hazards become factors in retention."

Urban fire departments have a bigger tax base to draw upon than rural ones and a less spread out population to serve, Bates said.

"For rural departments to cover the same number of taxpayers with an effort to match those same sort of response times, they would require more stations and engine companies, straining the budget," Bates said. "It helps that we have mutual aid and all work together."

CYFD and Prescott say they don't draw many firefighters from the Phoenix metro area, but upper-level positions have been filled by people from the Phoenix area.

But both agencies have lost firefighters to Phoenix area departments for residency choices or better wages and benefits, Tharp said.

"Some firefighters were born here with long family history, and others came here and made it their home," Bates said. "We value teamwork and care for the community. We will continue to be professional, provide the best service we can, and welcome being a part of making things better."

Chino Valley Review reporter Matt Santos contributed to this story.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, August 22, 2013
Article comment by: Crystal Tanaka

This whole thing just makes me sick! You cannot compare teachers to firemen. Both parties do a very important job and both should have anyone's respect! I cannot believe the comments in this thread. You all hide behind a fake name and talk all this big talk well stop hiding. As for Prescott they do under pay firemen, police, teachers, EMS crews and sadly this happen everywhere! They under paid our hot shots. They over worked them and made promises they couldnt keep and now the widows and families are speaking out not just for their HEROES but for all first responders who this could happen to! The thing everyone needs to get is these men and women live their jobs. They love their job and they love their communities they protect and serve. All of you should simply be saying thank you and should be willing to help these families continue on! You don't have to donate money but if you live there and happen to see them around town stop and say hello and thank you. These families only want what they believe their husbands, sons, dads, and uncles deserve! I work on a Facebook page where many wives comment and post and this article along with all of your bickering and fighting is making them even more sad than they already are! All of you should be ashamed. These guys died saving the homes, buildings, and livestock in Yarnell. How about just giving them respect and simply insuring that the next hot shot crew or fire crew will be treated better and get what they do deserve, higher pay and benefits! Remember these families are watching and reading everything you all say and write!!!!!

Posted: Monday, May 06, 2013
Article comment by: @ Into A Burning Building

Thank you for this link. I, too, thought of the same incident as I read many of the comments made by those who don't have an accurate understanding of the risk and sacrifice involved in the fire service. For those who are interested in reading this article, please remove the =1 from the end of the link. This will take you directly to the article. I was unable to open it by highlighting it alone.

The risks of this profession are not limited to fighting fires. There are cardiac risks, risks present during trainings and while in route to an emergency call, just to name a few.

For those members of the community that choose to complain about our local firefighters and their services, please take the time to educate yourself before making such negative and discouraging comments. You can start by reading the article referenced by @ Into a Burning Building.

Posted: Monday, May 06, 2013
Article comment by: Bea Mazzella

What is wrong with some of you people..Firefighters are a rare breed...your safety is their main concern...they have to go through so much to become a guys out there who think this is no big deal, probably couldn't even make the grade to become a firefighter..Shame on you!! I wonder who you're going to call when your house is on fire..."Oh, Wait" you can run into your burning need for a firefighter, right?
May God Bless all firefighters..

Posted: Friday, May 03, 2013
Article comment by: @ FF NOT COMPLAINING

Well it seems as though the Fire Fighters may not be complaining but the wives are starting some fires so to speak.I think some people just don't know how lucky they are and how good they have it.I personally had to move my family down to the valley because there was no work for me in Prescott.Theres nothing like living and raising your kids in Prescott so you all should be thankful.We as society take so many things for granted and it's a shame!Just my two cents.

Posted: Friday, May 03, 2013
Article comment by: FF's NOT Complaining

Firefighters here in Prescott/Prescott Valley/Chino are "NOT" complaining or asking for more pay! Lisa Irish took it upon herself to write this article.

Posted: Friday, May 03, 2013
Article comment by: @ BOBBY FIELDS

I think your over looking what people are really saying.I haven't heard or seen anybody on here say they Didnt appreciate what these men and women do it's the fact that they want more pay on the scale like phoenix when we all know that Prescott is nowhere near comparable to phoenix there's really nothing dangerous that happens in Prescott I'm not down playing their job but come on let's be realistic places like phoenix NY Chicago they make more money for obvious reasons.And all this stuff you talk about seeing the bad accidents and doing CPR that's their job that's what they signed up for so lets be realistic!If everybody on here were to be honest we would all agree that Prescott fire fighters have a pretty relaxed job compared to other city's and that's why there pay scale is where it is.

Posted: Thursday, May 02, 2013
Article comment by: New Job

If they don't like their "cake" jobs quit and get a real one...

Posted: Thursday, May 02, 2013
Article comment by: @ Let's keep perspective

Of course any "foolish" person can run into a burning building, that is not the point here. The point is that FF's are the ones trained and equipped to go into burning homes/buildings, what have you, and have the knowledge and training to save that building or anybody who may be inside.

To say it doesn't take any particular skills is just plain "ignorant"!

Let's not make light of a burning building and keep this in perspective as you say.

Posted: Thursday, May 02, 2013
Article comment by: Bobby Fields

Most of us will never know the burden of performing CPR on a child and the child still dies, or extracting the mutilated remains of a person killed in a horrific aircraft crash. Most of us get to do our jobs in relatively comfortable clothing, not heavy, hot turnouts. The average person doesn't have to wake up multiple times at night to respond to all manner of calls, not knowing exactly what the call might entail. You and I get to be home for holidays, attend most (if not all) of our childrens' birthday parties, and sleep in our own beds, but firefighters do not. Firefighters know all about this stuff, because it is their life.

Firefighters and police officers work in a world that requires constant readiness and often results in hours of routine tasks followed by moments of extreme fear, anxiety, and danger. The average person cannot comprehend the toll it takes on these folks. Those of you who look at the firefighter you happen to know, or the cop that lives down the street, consider how well you REALLY know about their work life. The tactical reality of what that person really does on a day-to-day basis cannot be fully understood by watching Blue Bloods or Chicago Fire.

It is pathetic to see that so many uninformed people are willing to levy judgment about things they know so little about. To my friends and family who serve our community so well, THANK YOU, most of us appreciate you.

Posted: Thursday, May 02, 2013
Article comment by: more perspective

I run into burning buildings on an almost-daily basis.

Posted: Thursday, May 02, 2013
Article comment by: Let's keep perspective

I've run into burning buildings on no less than 3 separate occasions. I'm not a firefighter and it didn't take any particular skill. I would imagine there are plenty of other citizens who can claim the same. I'm not bashing firefighters -- I just think there needs to be some perspective added to the dialogue.

Posted: Thursday, May 02, 2013
Article comment by: Into a Burning Building.

For all of you who think firefighters never rush into burning buildings, read this article. Amazing what a little local paper search can turn up.

Posted: Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Article comment by: Patty B

So many haters here. Very sad. Can't we all just care for one another?

Posted: Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Article comment by: @TO: Out to Lunch Lady

Firefighters can be first on the scene of a hostage or shootout situation but they are not trained or equipped to arrest individuals or interfere with a volatile situation, just as a police officer who may show up to a house fire first, would not be trained or equipped to put out fires. It's common sense "lunch lady". Has nothing to do with firefighters hiding. They are told to stake out the situation and not get involved unless people get hurt. You don't call a plumber to fix your car when it breaks down. Think about it...

Firefighters are true heroes and have plenty of value!

Posted: Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Article comment by: Did You Know

Many may argue about the difference(s) between firefighters that are employed by the City of Phoenix and those that serve the communities of Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Valley and the outlying areas. It seems that whenever the Courier covers a story concerning these local agencies and district, many people comment on their belief that the firefighters in this area never fight fires and/or there is no risk here as compared to Phoenix. I am sorry that many people are so uninformed and are misguided in their thinking of the risk and hazards in this line of work, even in smaller towns.

While Phoenix and the Prescott area are very different, the same injuries and, sadly, deaths that have happened in large cities such as Phoenix, are far from impossibilities in our community. I can think of one such line of duty death that happened in Phoenix during a grocery store fire back in 2001. This fire occurred at 5pm with the grocery store full of shoppers and Firefighter Brett Tarver lost his life while fighting this fire, leaving behind his wife and three young children. Our local firefighters would engage in that risk, should they respond to a structure fire at any one of the grocery stores, hotels, warehouses, or large facilities in our community.

Thank goodness for the training and protective gear that they have and maintain. Thank goodness for building codes and their enforcement of them. Thank goodness for the education and public awareness campaigns that they continue. Thank goodness for the willingness and brave hearts that firefighters have to go into homes and buildings while others are fleeing. In that sense, yes, they do "run" in. Thank goodness for all that our firefighters do. Their reward is far greater than monetary and only people who truly care about others can comprehend such service and sacrifice.

Thank God for our firefighters near and far and may he protect them always.

Posted: Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Article comment by: @@ THINK ABOUT THIS PEOPLE

I am married to a Firefighter and "YES" they do run into burning houses here in Prescott. Houses catch on fire here just as in any other town. Its fact!

Posted: Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Article comment by: @ Ben Dover

Thanks for listing recent fires that the local fire departments have responded to. Just think, if no one responded to these fires, how may neighborhoods would be lost. These are just a few incidents they have responded to lately. They also respond to traffic crashes and a lot of medical calls just to list a few things they do. I hope everyone that enjoys bashing firefighters don't ever need their help. But you know what, no matter what you say, they will still help you, because they is what they do.

Posted: Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Article comment by: TO: Out to Lunch Lady

You won't find a firefighter anywhere near a hostage situation or shootout. (They'll be the first to tell you that.)

They hide far away until the scene is contained and stabilized by the police (aka real heroes.)

Firefighters are not without some value, but you're getting a little carried away there.

Posted: Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Article comment by: @ THINK ABOUT THIS PEOPLE

Come on are you serious I don't think ANY firefighter in Prescott has ever RAN into a burning house I think you've been watching waaaay too much tv my friend.And you cannot compare a firefighter to a teacher.And shame on you for down playing the significance of our education system and our teachers.These are the men and women that are teaching our children who are the future.Fire fighting can be a dangerous job I agree just not as much in Prescott as it would be in a bigger city such as phoenix or Chicago or NY.And the danger and risk is something that comes with the job that's what they signed up for .Its a trade off for getting to live in Prescott and raise your family in a beautiful place that's low in crime and danger so therefor you can't have your cake and eat it also!

Posted: Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Article comment by: Think About this people

Fiirefighters run into burning houses, show up when there is a shootout, hostage situations, horrible accidents, etc. Now if you think a teacher would like to add this to their job description and actually do it, they fine, raise their pay. Unless you know what the firefighters go through on a routine basis as a first responder, the horror they see and have to live with the images in their head, don't ever down grade this occupation. You folks are out to lunch.

Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Article comment by: Scotty G.

"Clearly this is not the action packed, life and death stuff that many firefighters would have you believe."

What firefighers are you talking about? Oh and the the irony in the "3rd grade" insult... what a great way to prove how mature and educated you are!

Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Article comment by: Ben D

@ (TO: Benny Dover)

You really really hurt my feeling! :(

Your a computer bully, and being a bully is wrong! Say your sorry!

Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Article comment by: @@ APPLES TO ORANGES

Well your obviously a fire fighter or the wife of one and if you really think that Prescott is comparable to Phoenix you are on fantasy land.I think everyone on here at least agrees that there's no comparison even the fire fighters.Thank you to the fire fighter for commenting and clearing some issues up much respect to you for that.I know that their job isn't easy but not comparable to phoenix that's like comparing Barney Fife to a officer that works Compton and say they do the same job!

Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Article comment by: TO: Benny Dover

I'm not sure what your point is with that titillating blotter, but you make a sound case for keeping their salaries right where they're at. Clearly this is not the action packed, life and death stuff that many firefighters would have you believe.

(By the way, you get an "A" for use of the search engine. Kudos. You'll do well in 3rd grade next year.)

Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Article comment by: Ben Dover

@why is it

Weird on little search and look what I found!

4/28/2013 9:15:00 PM
Sunday fire damages Prescott apartment

4/23/2013 6:19:00 PM
Improper disposal of ashes causes $80,000 house fire in Prescott Valley Tuesday

4/8/2013 10:19:00 PM
Engine crews make short work of deck fire

4/4/2013 9:58:00 PM
Firefighters put out half-acre blaze in Prescott Valley

4/3/2013 9:19:00 AM
Welding fire destroys Prescott Valley garage

4/3/2013 9:59:00 PM
Burn pile turns to wildfire, threatens neighbors' homes

3/29/2013 9:45:00 PM
Photo: Structure Fire

3/25/2013 9:59:00 PM
Early morning fire destroys Highland Pines home

3/23/2013 9:50:00 PM
Homeowner treated for smoke inhalation after small house fire

3/8/2013 9:50:00 PM
Police Report
Fire causes $50K in damage to motel

3/8/2013 9:50:00 PM
Police Report
Small wildland fire short work for PFD

3/8/2013 9:50:00 PM
Police Report
Fire results from microwave mistake

2/18/2013 10:46:00 PM
Firefighters clear smoke from Prescott home

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