- August 26, 2009
The Longboat Key Fire Rescue Union recently completed hourly rate and annual salary comparables for two neighboring fire departments that also have defined benefit contribution plans through the Florida Retirement System.
Longboat Key Fire Union Vice President and firefighter/paramedic Keith Tanner and Lt. Jason Berzowski will act as the union’s shift representative negotiators during contract talks with the town this summer. They say the numbers show that the town needs to adjust its wages so they are competitive with Sarasota and Hillsborough county firefighter/paramedic wages.
And, more importantly, they say the department is in danger of losing firefighter/paramedics to Sarasota and Hillsborough counties because they have higher wages for firefighter/paramedic lieutenant positions. Currently, Berzowski said there’s no incentive for firefighters to move up the rank ladder.
“We have trouble attracting firefighters to the lieutenant side because the wages aren’t comparable,” Berzowski said. “They can go to another department and make more as a lieutenant, and that’s a problem.”
One reason the town fell behind on wages for entry-level and lieutenant positions is that a wage step plan has been frozen for the past six years, Berzowski said.
“We can attract quality guys if you match us up dollar by dollar with those two departments,” Berzowski said.
Although annual salaries for Longboat Key firefighter/paramedics are higher than their counterparts in Sarasota County, Berzowski points out the reason for that is Longboat Key firefighters work 56-hour work weeks while Sarasota County firefighters work 48-hour work weeks.
“We have lower hourly rates and work 416 more hours a year than they do at a lower wage,” Berzowski said.
Berzowski, who trains new hires, said a recent opening for a firefighter/paramedic position attracted 14 applicants, but only six of those candidates passed the minimum requirement test needed to continue with the hiring process. Of those six, Berzowksi said three came back for final assessment tests, and only one passed the test.
“They can go to another department and make more as a lieutenant and that’s a problem.”
– Lt. Jason Berzowski
Because of looming retirements in Sarasota County, the county will hire 35 firefighter/paramedics in November and another 100 positions in 2016-17. And Hillsborough County is set to replace approximately 200 firefighter/paramedics who are preparing for retirement in the next two years.
“I have guys who have told me if we don’t fix the wages, they’re heading to those departments next year,” Berzowski said. “All eyes are on this contract.”
Town Manager Dave Bullock doesn’t believe the town will have a problem filling firefighter/paramedic positions beginning in May 2016 when six veteran employees retire.
Although Tanner and Berzowski agree that the positions can be filled, they say the individuals the town is hiring are the ones who didn’t get jobs or pass assessments in neighboring departments.
“We’re getting the bottom of the barrel of the recruits, and I’m not sure that’s what we want,” Tanner said. “If we fix the wages, we’ll have our pick again of the best of the best who want to come out here to work.”
The charts to the right show how Longboat Key wages stack up with Sarasota and Hillsborough counties, which are the only other two departments in the area with similar Florida Retirement System defined benefit plans.