We all deserve to be paid for our work, and no one earns their salary like firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians. But a report from CBS News and watchdog group Transparent California says some fire departments may be more generous than we could ever imagine. They report that some firefighters in the San Ramon, California fire district are making almost $400,000 per year in total compensation. Over half of the full-time firefighters there make more than $300,000 annually.
That number includes employee benefits and salary. But it’s still causing some to question how much is too much.
Jack Weir, president of the Contra Cost Taxpayers Association, asked CBS News what sort of a message that sends. “Does it make sense that a battalion chief in San Ramon should earn $300,000 when our governor only earns $180,000 a year in compensation?” he asked. “It’s unreasonable, it’s unaffordable and most importantly, from a taxpayer’s perspective and from the perspective of the firefighters, it’s unsustainable,” he added.
San Ramon Valley firefighters tell a different story. They say the benefits package makes it easy to overstate salaries, and that paying one firefighter to work overtime saves more money than paying two firefighters to work regular hours.
San Ramon Valley Fire Chief Paige Meyer defended the department salaries.
“If someone makes $1, we end up close to spending 90 cents for their pension, so that’s $1.90, roughly,” Meyer said. “And then we also have the costs of healthcare.” In San Ramon, firefighters contribute about 25% of their salary to their pension funds.
Meyer says that even with overtime, the costs of hiring, training, and paying a pension to a new firefighter is far higher.
She says theirs is a “very sustainable system,” and that firefighters were paying the “unfunded liabilities” that many other departments do not. She says the starting salary for a firefighter in her department is $90,000 before benefits.