It is hard to separate fact from fiction any more at City Hall. Our mayor and our local newspaper have become so intent on fixing the city’s financial problems by way of gutting employee’s salaries and benefits that the truth no longer matters.

Hopefully, you have had an opportunity to follow the above link to our website. Now I would like to share some hard facts with you today about firefighters — facts that usually get left out of the story.

First, some facts about our pay. A recent study by the Mayor’s Office showed just how bad our numbers are. Here are the facts: you decide for yourself if the firefighters in the station in your neighborhood are underpaid.

Here are the study results for San Diego’s firefighters. They compare total compensation, meaning retirement, health and other benefits are included in the comparisons.

  • Fire Recruit: San Diego is dead LAST in the Buck survey of 23 fire agencies, including the fire agencies in San Diego County.
  • Fire Captain: Pay and benefits are in the bottom half of agencies surveyed.
  • Battalion Chief: Third to last, putting this position in the bottom quarter of pay and benefits surveyed.
  • Top Step Firefighter II: Their compensation places them in the 18th spot out of 23 agencies.

Even though the study points out how badly paid our firefighters are, those numbers would have been much worse if the survey had been done properly. The study was supposed to include cost of living information in its comparisons, which it did not. You can’t compare pay for firefighters in Houston to San Diego when we know it is much cheaper to live in Houston.

The study also did not include San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland — three cities in California that historically pay their firefighters well and are more comparable to San Diego in terms of cost of living.

In short, the inclusion of those three cities would have caused a plummet in our numbers in every category of the study. Adding in Houston and Phoenix without cost of living adjustments, on the other hand, causes our compensation to look better than it is. The last time I checked our firefighters were not running off to Houston to accept jobs, so I’m not sure how that city’s numbers could be relevant.

The quick snapshot I’ve provided here of firefighter pay and benefits in the city of San Diego may not be the picture the Mayor’s office is providing, but is the one that is supported by hard facts.

— FRANK DE CLERCQ

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