Wednesday, April 29, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Clark County firefighters find themselves in the spotlight lately because they have not agreed to give up any scheduled salary increases to fill the county’s budget gap.
The public has heard that they make a lot of money in overtime and that on July 1, firefighters are to get 3 percent cost-of-living increases. But the compensation package for firefighters has many more components. In fact, the minimum annual increase for many firefighters is closer to 10 percent, and on top of that, many are eligible for even more salary bumps known as “premium pay.”
Here’s how the 10 percent increase breaks down:
The firefighters union contract calls for “step” pay increases. These are salary increases of about 6 percent each year.
Most firefighters are classified as firefighter II and are eligible for eight step increases of 6 percent each. So after a starting salary of $49,941, they would eventually get 48 percent more for a salary of $74,198 annually.
Firefighter I’s start at the same pay but get only two step increases, bringing their pay to $52,940.
About 70 percent of the firefighters have gone as far up in step increases as they can.
Another little-known pay raise is a 1.75 percent boost related to retirement accounts.
The county pays half of a firefighter’s 33.5 percent contribution rate into Nevada’s Public Employees Retirement System.
That PERS contribution will increase to 37 percent in July. That’s where the 1.75 percent pay increase comes in: The county has agreed to pay an additional 1.75 percent on each firefighter’s salary to offset half of the 3.5 percent PERS increase.
Add them up: 3 percent cost-of-living plus 6 percent step plus 1.75 percent equals salary boosts of 10.75 percent.
And firefighters have lots of other options for boosting their pay.
They earn premium pay for obtaining and maintaining certifications.
Different categories of firefighters — captains, engineers, volunteer coordinators, investigators, trainers and EMS supervisors — receive a bonus of 12 percent of their base pay for maintaining a “fire paramedic” license. In addition, those who directly oversee paramedic trainees get a 10 percent salary boost.
Different categories of firefighters also get salary boosts for obtaining emergency medical technician licenses. EMTs get 5 percent increases, while EMT-1’s get 7 percent.
Unless they are paramedic preceptors, firefighters cannot receive both EMT and paramedic premiums.
The county also gives firefighters a 5 percent premium for obtaining hazardous materials certification if they are permanent members of a hazardous materials team.
Firefighters who obtain technician-level certification through the Nevada Fire Marshal’s Office in dive rescue, swift water rescue, structural collapse rescue, confined space rescue, trench rescue, vehicle and machinery rescue, and high/low angle rope rescue get an additional 5 percent. Certified firefighters are assigned to “urban technical rescue stations,” where no fewer than eight trained technicians must be on duty for each shift.
A firefighter reassigned from fire suppression to the training division to become an instructor receives premium pay of 10 percent and keeps other premium pay received before the assignment. Light-duty firefighters in the division do not get the premium.
Employees who complete a conversational Spanish test get $50 extra each pay period. Dog handlers get $75 extra each pay period.
One of the final sections of the contract provides for perhaps more premium benefits to come.
It says if firefighters provide patient transport, which only rarely happens now, how much premium pay they should receive will be addressed in negotiations.
Those talks could begin soon because a bill in the state Legislature would boost the department’s ability to transport patients to the hospital.