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Guide to firefighters’ pay and benefits

The Sacramento City Council’s tentative decision last week to make major cuts to public safety brings police and firefighter jobs into the spotlight.

Six City Council members said they intend to raise the number of brownouts or alternating closures of fire services from two to four.

While the city has no plans to lay off firefighters, the public debate over possible cuts to public safety begs the question: How much do firefighters in the city get paid? How do their benefits work?

The brownouts may be part of the final budget the City Council is expected to approve on June 21. The city is facing a $39 million deficit.

The Sacramento Press published a guide to police officers’ pay and benefits on June 5, and is now looking at firefighters’ salary and benefits.

Firefighter pay

There are several kinds of unionized jobs in the Sacramento Fire Department, according to data on the city’s website. These job titles are firefighter, firefighter/paramedic, engineer, engineer/paramedic, captain, captain/paramedic and battalion chief.

About 500 employees hold these positions, Michael Stover, administrative officer for the department, said.

“It must be noted that the current pay rates for members of Local 522 (the Firefighters’ union) are frozen until January 2012,” Stover noted.

The salary for the firefighter job ranges from $53,534 to $65,071, according to salary data published on the city’s website. A firefighter/paramedic can earn from $58,888 to $71,579 annually, in base pay.

Engineers earn anywhere from $63,613 to $77,322. Salaries for engineer/paramedics start at $66,157 and go up to $80,415. Engineers, who conduct “specialized firefighting work,” drive the fire engines/trucks and operate the pump machinery on fire engines, must have worked as a Sacramento firefighter for four years, according to the city’s website.

Pay for captains ranges from $71,917 to $87,416. Captains are supervisors who must have worked as a firefighter for five years. A salary range of $74,794 to $90,913 is for captain/paramedics.

Battalion chiefs – supervisors who outrank captains – are paid anywhere from $92,745 to $112,732.

The department has eight sworn top managers – a fire chief, two deputy chiefs and five assistant chiefs, according to Stover. For example, a fire deputy chief earns between $112,629 to $168,943. Assistant chiefs are top managers who outrank battalion chiefs.

Read the salary data for all of these jobs here. 

Retirement and other benefits for firefighters

Like police officers and managers, firefighters do not pay toward their retirement benefits. A recent audit of employee benefits by City Auditor Jorge Oseguera’s office said the city covers all CalPERS retirement system contributions for firefighters, police officers and managers.

Meanwhile, city employees in other fields pay retirement contributions.

The audit stated that the city could save roughly $7.9 million on average annually if all of its workers, including firefighters, paid 4 percent of their earnings toward their retirements. Unionized fire employees also receive a health and welfare benefit from the city, basic life insurance, 12 days of vacation per year with the ability to accrue two more floating days each year, 24 hours of holiday time and 12 sick days, according to Kimberly Isaacs, city human resources manager for benefits and retirement.

Additional information about firefighters’ benefits is outlined in the Sacramento Area Fire Fighters Local 522 contract with the city, which can be read here.

Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. 

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