The recent Marigold fire proves that we still need a fire department. But do we need to pay them so much? The figures for public employees’ salaries are now out for 2012, and I have good news and bad news.
The good news is that the total compensation (wages, overtime, benefits) for the job designation of “firefighter” in Fairfield actually fell $15,000 last year, to a paltry $156,000.
This drop is undoubtedly due to the city’s frustration with the old firefighter game of income maximization. Here’s how the game works.
Firefighter A calls in sick. He’s paid full rate on this sick day. His buddy, Firefighter B, gets to take his place at time and a half. Next week, B feels woozy and A gets the overtime boost. To combat this, the city took out one entire crew and used them as substitutes at the regular rate. Sorry guys, but your grubbing, especially during a financial crisis, left a bad taste.
The rest of the Fire Department job designations – engineers, captains and battalion chiefs – held their own against the reduction trend.
The bad news is that Fairfield’s highest-compensated employee throughout the city in 2012 was our deputy fire chief, who claimed $325,000. Gee, if he plays it right, his great-great-great grandchildren will have trust funds.
Other good news for Fairfield citizens is that their safety workers are paid less than Vacaville’s.
“Firefighters” in Vacaville made a whopping $36,000 more than their Fairfield counterparts. Over the entire range of fire job titles, Vacaville paid an average $17,000 more than their Fairfield opposites. I’m sure our Fairfield fire employees will be talking to our elected officials with dampened eyes about the terrible injustice of having lower compensation than our neighbor.
What about Fairfield police? Their compensation was held to last year’s level, too. The average patrol cop netted total compensation of $166,000 this year and last. A similar job in Oz-Up-The-Highway went for $16,000 more.
But at least the cities benefit strongly from the police expense. Fairfield cops responded to 91,000 incidents with only 20 complaints in 2012. That’s pretty good. Fire responded to 10,000 calls for service, but of those, only 33 were “Building Fires,” their main reason for being, which included commercial, industrial and residential buildings.
I wonder how many of those 33 blazes were for house fires, the ones we fear the most. For some reason, that number is not kept.
Most fire calls were for medical reasons, something that could be taken care of far more cheaply with upgrades to our ambulance service, but I won’t mention that in this brief report. Then there’s the problem of taking expensive fire trucks to routine calls for service. But I’m not going to mention that, either.
Getting back to the problem of such fulsome compensation in both cities. Will these outlandish payouts ever end? Doubtful. If we can’t use a genuine financial crisis such as we’ve just experienced to lower compensation, my guess is we never will.
Bad on you, city councils.
And if you, dear citizen, wonder about bad streets, decrepit parks and few summer youth programs, you know where the money went.
Jack Batson is a former member of the Fairfield City Council. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.