Two council members slam Fire Department pay

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Two City Council members complained Thursday that San Diego firefighters earn as much as 325 percent more than their private sector colleagues, but both the fire chief and the head of the firefighters' union said the finding is false and misleading.

Council members Carl DeMaio and Lorie Zapf issued a report using figures from the city's Independent Budget Analyst to show that San Diego Fire-Rescue Department employees who are classified as Firefighter II and have earned emergency medical technician certification make nearly three times as much in salary as EMTs at Rural/Metro Ambulance, a private firm that works under a city contract.

The same SDFRD employees each make nine times the benefits of the Rural/Metro worker for a total pay difference of 325 percent, according to the report.

Large disparities exist in other classifications, as well, according to the IBA figures.

“Any time the city gives out salaries and benefits that are higher than the local labor market, we are wasting the taxpayers' money,” DeMaio said at a news conference.

He and Zapf asked the IBA to provide more data for the city to have on hand when negotiations open on a new contract with the firefighters union.

Fire Chief Javier Mainar and union President Frank De Clercq both said the comparisons amount to mixing apples and oranges.

They said that firefighters trained as EMTs and paramedics respond not only to numerous medical aid calls but also to hazardous materials spills, traffic accident rescues, natural disasters, explosions and other incidents their Rural/Metro counterparts aren't trained to handle.

Mainar called the conclusions of the council members “blatantly misleading.”

“To accept this comparison as valid, one would have to believe that all firefighters could simply be replaced with single-function EMTs or paramedics and that these lower-cost employees could then be called upon to handle the wide range of emergency types firefighters respond to each day,” Mainar said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The chief said firefighters certified as EMTs make an extra $5,387 a year, and those with paramedic training earn an extra $11,095 a year.

“I struggle to understand why council member DeMaio continually attempts to distort the record and the public's perception when it comes to firefighters and am distressed that council member Zapf has now apparently chosen to join in his efforts to mislead the public,” Mainar said.

De Clercq called statements from DeMaio and Zapf “outright lies and distortions.”

The council members said they were simply asking for the IBA to analyze potential savings in labor costs and examine alternative ways to deliver services. DeMaio said it was important to ask “tough questions” in order to save taxpayer money.

Categories: KUSI