I am one of those guys that gets infuriated when I see one of those signs that say, “YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK”, just as you hit a jarring bump that might have bent a wheel. I am also a public safety employee, having started as a volunteer fire fighter at the age of 17, and working the last 13 years as a full time Engineer/Fire Fighter. I have spent nearly 2000 hours in emergency medical service training, and several times that in fire suppression, fire prevention, hazardous materials, auto extrication, disaster management, leadership, management, etc.. I am currently a state licensed paramedic(not currently practicing), locally accredited EMT, HAZMAT Technician, State Fire Instructor, and confined space technician, to name a few of my so called accomplishments. My training records and education records would most likely show over 8,000 hours in training and education. Thats the equivalent of 4-5 bachelor degrees. I am not bragging. This is normal for most professionals in public safety in both law enforcement and the fire service.
Why do I bring this up? Today, I saw an article in the Lake County News regarding the publishing of public employees salaries on a website. I applaud this move, however I wish they would add information as to how the salaries reach their sometimes high salaries. Last year I was astounded to see that my salary was noted at $112,000. Not that I didn’t know that I made that much money, it’s just that the ONLY thing stated, was that I made $112,000. Seems high when you simply look at it…….
What is an Engineer Fire Fighter worth per year? And Why? Lastly, should this be as infuriating to you as those darn road signs are to me?
Lets break down some numbers:
78,000 My base salary after 17 years as an employee at my agency
112,000 2011 total salary
34,000 the overtime earned during said year.
If I worked 40 hours per week, that would be one dandy hourly salary. But I don’t work 40 hours per week. Instead of working approximately 2040 hours a year before overtime, I work 2756 of my regularly scheduled hours on straight pay, due to the FLSA requirements that say fire fighters don’t get paid overtime till 53 hours per week. When I became full time as a fire fighter I believe my base hourly wage was 11.83. Seventeen years later I now make a little under 25.00 per hour. My base salary is determined by adding the 2756 regular hours, with the 156 overtime hours accumulated annually by my 56 hour work week. This bring me to a total base scheduled hours of 2,912 hours per year to make 78,000 dollars. So instead of working 2040 hours like many in management, and other non public safety employees, I get to work 2912 hours annually. Lets put that in perspective, I work 48 hours out of every 144, or 1/3 of the year, every year. In order to make 34,000 in overtime, I would need to work an additional 918 hours of overtime give or take. That total nears 44% of the year for nearly 4000 hours, and doesn’t include commuting and such.
In Summary, I spent nearly half my year at a firehouse, for 112,000 dollars gross pay(or 29.24 per hour). Out of that I pay 9% of my base salary for my PERS retirement contribution alone, plus medical insurance premiums, state and federal taxes, and several other deductions like every other employee in the the US that come off the top of my pay.
I don’t always want all that overtime, but unfortunately in a small department, with minimal staffing we often have to work out the schedule as a group, or be forced to work days I’d rather not. After spending 44% of my time at the fire house, regardless of how much I love my job, you do what you got to do.
So, is my salary defendable? Personally I think the base salary is spot on, the overtime however shows a ton of extra hours being worked. Do you know anyone with the equivalent in training hours to multiple four year degrees, who will work 3800 hours per year, for 112,000. I worked almost twice as much as most regular 40 hour employees, gave up a higher % of personal family time above and beyond that of regular 40 hour employees, which forced my wife to do much more at home for my kids and me. Additionally, the MOU between public employees and their employers often have requirments that increase the cost of living for employees. For example, until recently I was bound by contract to live within 20 minutes of my fire station. When I was looking for a home the median was one million dollars in the response area of my employment. My point, there are many things we don’t know about the salaries, additional requirements, local cost of living, etc, of agencies we are not familiar with. Maybe, I should re-analyze my opinion of those road signs and enjoy the good roads we do have, and my ability to navigate them freely.
Lastly, what should the website that shows public employees salaries say? It can’t possibly show everything I’ve written about each employee or position. But maybe, it should show base salary and annual hours, overtime salary and accumulated hours, and list some of the job description, education, and training requirements or certifications in order to properly justify the salaries shown. If they don’t do that, then no one should be surprised about people who express their opinions and or disapproval of the salaries of some public officials. Many people get paid too much, and many too little.
Our job as public servants should always be to meet and exceed job standards. To responsibly spend tax funds, and to be honest and trustworthy, while getting paid appropriately.
Lake County News Link