By Vince Wells
The pay and compensation of fire fighters has become the topic of conversation on many blogs and news articles. Our compensation has been exploited by some as overly generous and with others, the cause of the economic downturn.
As the lead negotiator for six of the 11 fire departments/districts in Contra Costa County, I can assure you our pay varies significantly. It has been our practice to survey the salary and benefits of 32 bay area departments to use in contract negotiations. We have always pushed to be within the average of the “top 10” bay area departments.
Even though this has been our charge, we have not been able to achieve this level of pay or compensation for the 15 years I have been here.
We have always settled for contracts that were within the affordability of our jurisdictions. This is evident by the fact that we represent departments that are number 31 (Pinole Fire Department) and 32 (East Contra Costa County) out of the 32 bay area departments surveyed.
When it comes to the worth of a person, profession, or service, it has always been debatable. Being a sports fan, I have been in many discussions regarding player contracts of quarterbacks, pitchers, or basketball players. I have often questioned the pay of certain movie actors as well. I have often questioned their contribution to society as a measuring stick as to what they should be paid.
Should a guy who can “dunk a basketball” from the free throw line make more than a pediatric nurse? Should Jim Carey make more money than a school teacher?
This can be debated on many levels and has been. I guess if you were the private nurse, teacher, police officer, soldier, or firefighter, of a multimillionaire, then you could expect to be paid accordingly.
I believe that as a fire fighter we will not be paid based on the services we provide, but on where we provide them. We understand that our pay scale is based on what money is available within the jurisdictions we work. I am offended, however, by those who question our worth. When people comment on our “overly generous benefits, retirements, or annual salaries” and say that we are paid too much it does sting a bit.
No, many of us cannot through a 90 mile an hour fast ball, dunk from the free throw line, we are not CEO’s of major corporations, and have not created software, cell phones, or I pads.
I can tell you what I have done though. I have done CPR on a 1 minute year old and a 105 year old. I have got pulses and respirations back on someone who was dead. I have pulled people out of raging waters and from off of cliffs.
I have pulled people out of burning buildings and cut people out of vehicles when they were trapped and bleeding to death. I have held dead children, mothers, sons, daughters and fathers.
I have fallen through floors, roofs, broken my ankle, injured my back, injured my eye, shoulders, and have a lung condition that I will be lucky if I can retire at 50 with.
I have had to explain too many family members about how we were too late when I knew it was because we were understaffed and underfunded. I have had to bury comrades and console the wives and children of many of our fallen. I have spoken at funerals, gave out flags, and medals to them as well.
I have been bitten, spat on, kicked, punched, vomited on, urinated on, bled on, crapped on, and called many racial slurs in the performance of my duties. I have once started an IV right through the middle of a swastika on an injured biker.
I have seen the results of child abuse, spouse abuse, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, smoking abuse, and elderly abuse. I have seen hoarders, suicides, murders, assaults, and beatings. I have images of burnt people, decapitations, lacerations, amputations, starvation, you name it I have seen it.
I am not asking for any sympathy on this. It is my chosen profession and I love my job. I just wonder why people say that my compensation is overly generous.