Firefighter Pay: Equal Risk, Unequal Reward?

By: Gordon Boyd
By: Gordon Boyd

Knoxville (WVLT) - Knoxville's new budget gives all city workers a pay raise.

It's less than they wanted. Most say they can live with it, this year.

But Volunteer TV’s Gordon Boyd finds out firefighters are more than a little hot, especially after getting the cold, hard numbers about what they could make somewhere else.

Virginia, the Carolinas, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, even across Tennessee, Knoxville pay does scrape bottom if those figures are the cold, hard truth.

Few would question the job's risk, after Knoxville firefighters worst inferno in years. Three firefighters hurt, the week before Valentine's Day, one still out, nursing spinal injuries.

“We're not in a position to where we're going to turn down anything,” says Lloyd Strawn from the Knoxville Firefighters Association.

Three-and-a-quarter percent, cross the board raises mean a recruit, no firefighting experience anywhere, will come making about $26,000 a year, the average firefighter, a little more than $30,000. A veteran master, tops out at just less than $50,000.

“We are, at every rank, either at the bottom or near the bottom. Even with a ten percent increase in pay, it will not bring us to the average of the respondent of the City Service Survey,” says Strawn.

A survey that includes pay scales from 27 Tennessee city and county fire departments, showing the average firefighter can make about $7,000 more somewhere else than in Knoxville.

Master firefighters about $10,000 more.

“We know that the city could not financially do a major overhaul and increase us to the average of their survey, but we'd like a commitment that they're going to start and correct the problem,” Strawn says.

Skills will buy bonuses.

First responders will get an extra $600, EMTs $950, paramedics $1500, bonuses significantly higher than the year just ending.

Still Knoxville's Mayor, and the President of the City Employees Association, question whether the survey methods need a little tweaking.

“Let's get started on these salary surveys so that we're not at this stage of the game next year,” says City Employees Association President Anita Cash.

“Before we sit down and do that survey, we'll sit down with each of the employee groups as part of that survey and determine how we're going to do that,” says Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam.

Don't plan on hearing the t-word, tax hike, too loudly either this election year or next, which likely means, more questions about whether the pay survey is on point.

It did find that Knoxville Police earn less, than other departments surveyed, but 10 to 12 percent less, not 20 to 30 percent.


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