A nation of $100,000 firefighters

General Law Enforcement discussion which does not fit into other channels. Post your thoughts and feelings about anything you want (LE related), or just vent those fumes about whatever is on your chest.
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gotchya
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A nation of $100,000 firefighters

Postby gotchya » Thu Aug 08, 2013 10:17 am

Everyone loves firefighters. They save lives. They are strong and competent. They look good on calendars. People are always happy when they show up.

But municipalities do not love firefighters. Across Canada, towns and cities are getting hosed by the skyrocketing costs of their fire departments. Thanks to arbitration settlements, your firefighters are the best paid (and possibly the most underworked) guys in town. Firefighters have been getting raises that are twice as high what other public sector workers have been getting, at a time when municipalities are strapped for funds and raises are just a memory for most of us.

Here in Toronto, firefighters recently won a 14-per-cent wage increase over five years, which means that by next year, a first-class firefighter will be making $90,000. But it’s the small towns that are hit worst. Tiny Owen Sound, Ont. (population 32,092), has 29 full-time fire professionals. Last year, 25 of them made more than $100,000. The median full-time income of people who live in Owen Sound is less than half that.

For smaller cities, the fire department is typically the largest item in the budget. It accounts for upward of a quarter of their costs. But municipalities are powerless to control firefighters’ salaries, because negotiations with the union almost always wind up in arbitration. And arbitrators aren’t obliged to give much weight to a town’s ability to pay. Instead, they simply match the settlements that everybody else got, including police. So the costs spiral ever upward, and towns are forced to cut back on libraries and roads. As Toronto city manager Joe Pennachetti told the Toronto Sun: “We feel like we’re banging our heads against the wall.”

There’s no good reason for salaries to go up so much, argues John Saunders, a consultant with Hicks Morley who advises dozens of municipalities. Firefighting is an extremely desirable job, and vacancies are scarce because people rarely quit. Last year, for example, there were more than 500 applicants for 20 firefighting jobs in the Ontario communities of Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo. In Cambridge, a first-class firefighter earns up to $99,397 a year, plus benefits and overtime. Yet despite the high demand for their jobs, firefighters get “retention” payments for not quitting.

Working conditions are pretty sweet too. Thanks to modern safety standards, there are very few fires left to fight. These days, most fire department calls are medical. To prove that they’re still needed, fire departments have been adding defibrillators and Jaws of Life, and frantically expanding their repertoires to respond to even minor non-fire emergencies. Still, there’s an awful lot of what we shall euphemistically call “down time,” which firemen fill by preparing meals, sleeping, watching television, polishing the trucks and rewinding the hoses.

It’s long past time to roll back firefighting costs, as cities across the United States have been forced to do. But in Canada, costs continue to escalate as unions demand even better benefits, shorter work weeks and highly desirable 24-hour shifts. Firefighters love 24-hour shifts because it gives them plenty of time off for their other jobs. Theoretically, they’re required to work seven or eight of these shifts in a 28-day period, but workers with plenty of seniority can wind up working just five or six shifts, according to Mr. Saunders. Some critics refer to the 24-hour arrangement as “a well-paid part-time job.” (As for how it’s possible to work 24 hours in a row, the answer is “down time.”)

Not even the smallest effort to control costs goes unchallenged. In Windsor, the union grieved a decision to pull a fire truck out of service in 2008, saying that the administration had promised to leave it in service until the new contract was settled, which still hasn’t happened. The arbitrator sided with the union and told the city to cough up $381,000 in theoretically lost overtime – $1,328 for each member of the fire department. Meanwhile, in Toronto, the firefighters’ union continues its endless war against Emergency Medical Services, claiming that a decision to stop dispatching million-dollar pumpers to lower-level 911 calls puts lives at risk. A consultants’ report said that a merger of fire and EMS could save the city significant money – but the tribal warfare is so bitter that it will never happen.

I have nothing against firefighters, personally. But times have changed. We can’t go on like this. I could write the same column about the police. You guys are supposed to protect us. But we can’t afford you any more.
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."-Burke, Edmund
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Re: A nation of $100,000 firefighters

Postby GPZ » Thu Aug 08, 2013 1:10 pm

She had me until the last three sentences. The only thing police and fire have in common is that we both drive vehicles with lights and sirens. And the fireguys always demand wage parity with police, so I guess two things.

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Re: A nation of $100,000 firefighters

Postby Bitterman » Thu Aug 08, 2013 2:12 pm

Meh...
$90k... In Toronto?
'Good wage, but by no means excessive.

Like some professions they don't get paid for what they do... They get paid for what they may be called upon to .
Admit nothing.
Deny everything.
Make counter accusations...

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Re: A nation of $100,000 firefighters

Postby Shawshank » Thu Aug 08, 2013 6:21 pm

So, I assume, the truck was pulled do to a standard that requires trucks of a certain age to be removed - which seems like a safety issue, the union grieves it and then the city coughs up, essentially, an all inclusive vacation to everyone. WTF
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Re: A nation of $100,000 firefighters

Postby scairns » Thu Aug 08, 2013 7:42 pm

Shawshank wrote:So, I assume, the truck was pulled do to a standard that requires trucks of a certain age to be removed - which seems like a safety issue, the union grieves it and then the city coughs up, essentially, an all inclusive vacation to everyone. WTF


I think where the article says "pull a truck out of service" they meant that the city had decided not to staff a truck (aka reduce the number of full time fire fighters via attrition), and the union fought that forcing the City to compensate the union/firefighters for the overtime that would have been paid had the truck been staffed.

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Re: A nation of $100,000 firefighters

Postby Shawshank » Thu Aug 08, 2013 8:16 pm

scairns wrote:
Shawshank wrote:So, I assume, the truck was pulled do to a standard that requires trucks of a certain age to be removed - which seems like a safety issue, the union grieves it and then the city coughs up, essentially, an all inclusive vacation to everyone. WTF


I think where the article says "pull a truck out of service" they meant that the city had decided not to staff a truck (aka reduce the number of full time fire fighters via attrition), and the union fought that forcing the City to compensate the union/firefighters for the overtime that would have been paid had the truck been staffed.


If that is the case, I retract my statement.
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Re: A nation of $100,000 firefighters

Postby GoodWitness » Thu Aug 08, 2013 8:25 pm

This is a really tricky issue. No one thinks that a firefighter, police officer, EMT, nurse, etc. are overpaid when they need their services, but when you are looking at it from the perspective of a struggling municipal/provincial budget for these services, you are tempted to think differently. It's most clear for fire, I think. In my town these guys work something like 75 24 hour shifts a year, and have so much time to run a side business or work a second job it isn't even funny. And many of them obviously do, and live quite well. So earning that kind of money for a 75 day commitment per year is astounding. The same can't be said for people earning similar money but working traditional shift schedules in policing, etc.

From a human resources perspective, if you've got positions to staff with literally hundreds of qualified applicants for every single opening, and applicants who will keep applying for 2, 5 even 15 years until they get the job, then there's a good chance you could pay less, or at least freeze wages, and still have no issue finding qualified applicants. There are obviously physical and psychological standards to be met for fire and for policing, but the basic requirements of education and other standards are pretty universal.

The money's good, but not astounding, and there is limited room for salary growth due to organizational structures. So the question is, how much of a factor was the pay when you decided to apply for a career in policing? If it was, say, 10% lower, would you have still done it? If your income was capped for five years, would you leave the profession?

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Re: A nation of $100,000 firefighters

Postby gotchya » Thu Aug 08, 2013 9:42 pm

opp2 wrote:There are many people in the world that make far more money than I do, or then firemen, nurses and teachers. I have first hand knowledge and I know of which I speak. We're talking 500, 000 per annum plus bonus and incentives...

THE ENTIRE and I mean ENTIRE difference lies in the fact that WE public servants are paid by tax payer dollars. THEY are not. End of conversation.

True, but generally in the private sector when you become redundant you get laid off. That doesn't happen nearly as much in the public sector. I suppose this is the "give and take" of being public or private sector.
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Re: A nation of $100,000 firefighters

Postby GoodWitness » Thu Aug 08, 2013 10:18 pm

I hear you, opp2, and unfortunately Gotchya's point is a valid one. Look south of the border where some cities have been forced to lay off a large percentage of their public servants including police. At least that is very unlikely here.

What I'd like to know, though, is how the teachers got such a sweetheart deal over the last 10-15 years in Ontario. The overall enrollment is down, but the number of teachers has gone up dramatically in the same period, and it's not all the full-day JK "daycare" issue. I can imagine the outcry if police services had seen growth like that with a dwindling number of calls for service, for example.

Edited to add that I also know many people who make shitpiles of money in the private sector, and I can also name many who have lost their jobs due to a downturn in business but mainly for restructuring/reorganizing simply to improve the bottom line - not to keep the business solvent or anything drastic, just to "increase shareholder wealth" in an already profitable business. Working one day, working off their severance package the next; that's the difference in most private sector jobs, you have absolutely no job security any more. You are expected to be completely loyal and at the beck and call of the employer, work overtime with no pay (salaried employees), take zero or minimal increases, with reduced benefits, and the employer shows no loyalty in return. It seems like it is only in the public sector where people can reasonably expect to enjoy a long career without hopping from employer to employer.
Last edited by GoodWitness on Thu Aug 08, 2013 10:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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gotchya
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Re: A nation of $100,000 firefighters

Postby gotchya » Thu Aug 08, 2013 10:26 pm

GoodWitness wrote:What I'd like to know, though, is how the teachers got such a sweetheart deal over the last 10-15 years in Ontario. The overall enrollment is down, but the number of teachers has gone up dramatically in the same period, and it's not all the full-day JK "daycare" issue. I can imagine the outcry if police services had seen growth like that with a dwindling number of calls for service, for example.


Smaller class sizes were also instituted which could account for some of the hiring. Not to mention that the teachers unions were highly supportive of the provincial liberals during elections. It could have been the government returning the favor.
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Re: A nation of $100,000 firefighters

Postby GoodWitness » Thu Aug 08, 2013 10:27 pm

gotchya wrote:
GoodWitness wrote:What I'd like to know, though, is how the teachers got such a sweetheart deal over the last 10-15 years in Ontario. The overall enrollment is down, but the number of teachers has gone up dramatically in the same period, and it's not all the full-day JK "daycare" issue. I can imagine the outcry if police services had seen growth like that with a dwindling number of calls for service, for example.


Smaller class sizes were also instituted which could account for some of the hiring. Not to mention that the teachers unions were highly supportive of the provincial liberals during elections. It could have been the government returning the favor.

I'm sure it is 110% political favours.

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gotchya
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Re: A nation of $100,000 firefighters

Postby gotchya » Thu Aug 08, 2013 10:42 pm

GoodWitness wrote: I'm sure it is 110% political favours.

Be it what it is. There are far worse things than ensuring teachers are paid well and there are number of them.

Members of the public service deserve a fair wage, many of them make important decisions and perform important tasks. However, it cannot mean that they should feel entitled to perpetual growth in hiring, increased equipment, and ever increasing wages. The economic climate and the state of the fiscal picture should play into the decision(s). The same goes for politicians and others (i.e. crown corporations) receiving funding from taxpayers.
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Re: A nation of $100,000 firefighters

Postby GoodWitness » Thu Aug 08, 2013 11:22 pm

opp2 wrote:I don't want this to be about teacher bashing or firemen or police or anyone else...

the fact is we are public servants, paid for by the hard working and not so hardworking citizens and businesses in Ont and Canada. It is what is is... I was simply pointing out the difference.

I hear you. And I freely admit that I envy those people who were smart enough to get a public service job when I was entering the workforce. Heck, I could be earning a pension by now, depending on what path I could have chosen.

I've only worked very briefly and a long time ago in a public service job with DND, but have friends and relatives in a variety of public service positions. Most do pretty well for themselves, and work hard at their jobs. There's usually a disconnect, though, when the idea of the general economic climate having an impact on their livelihood comes up. Somehow it's as if only the private sector employees should be looking over their shoulder. I recall last year when the federal government was announcing possible civil service cuts, there were articles about the incredible stress this was putting on people, not knowing if their job was secure. This is just a fact of life for most of us.


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