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Debate Flares Over Firefighter Pay

When you call 911 in San Diego, a city fire truck is likely to arrive. It will come with several EMT’s and at least one paramedic. About 80 percent of calls the fire department responds to are medical. Councilman Carl DeMaio said that makes the work of the firefighters comparable to EMT’s and paramedics with private ambulance companies.

Memo on Firefighter Compensation
A memo from the offices of Councilmembers Carl DeMaio and Lorie Zapf comparing compensation between San Diego firefighters and private EMT's and paramedics.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

“When you look at it from that lens, we are seeing very clearly that there is a significantly higher salary and benefit package in the city of San Diego for the same work that’s done in the private sector,” he said.

An analysis requested by DeMaio and Councilwoman Lorie Zapf from the Independent Budget Analyst shows in some cases city firefighters are paid 325 percent more than private employees when you consider their benefits package. But Fire Chief Javier Mainar said the comparison has an obvious flaw -- ambulance drivers can't fight fires.


“Suggesting it is fair and appropriate to compare the compensation received by firefighters… to their private sector counterparts who only function as EMT’s and paramedics, but have none of the training, skills or duties of firefighters, is blatantly misleading,” he said.

Mainar said the pay discrepancy is closer to 20 percent and accounts for the extra training firefighters receive, which includes HAZMAT, rescue and fire response. He said it’s ironic that DeMaio, who represents communities that were devastated in the 2003 and 2007 wildfires, seems to be saying he doesn’t value firefighters.

“That seems to be the message he’s intent on bringing to our firefighters. I couldn’t disagree more with that,” Mainar said.

But DeMaio insisted it’s not a question of valuing firefighters.

“We value the work of our firefighters,” he said. “But it does no good to our neighborhood public safety if we are in any way wasting any taxpayer dollars in a budget when we have such a significant shortfall.”


San Diego is facing a $57-million deficit. DeMaio and Zapf are asking for additional compensation analysis from the IBA's office. Mainar said he looks forward to the report.

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