Alexandria firefighters are likely getting a raise this year, but under the city manager’s proposed budget they are still the lowest paid in the region.
City Manager Mark Jinks is proposing a 6.6% pay hike to $52,531 for first-year firefighters, which includes the 1.5% increase for all city employees. The city’s salary for first-year firefighters, however, would still be 6.4% behind other jurisdictions in the region.
Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson has requested a budget memo on the situation. The city’s pay philosophy, he said, is to not pay the most in the region, but somewhere in the middle.
“It’s always been an extremely competitive marketplace,” Wilson said. “A lot of people are hiring for the same exact roles, the same exact training, the same exact skill set, and so we have to compete.”
With a starting salary of $49,294 for working 56 hours a week, Alexandria firefighter compensation is 12.3% lower than Prince William County, which currently pays an average of $52,749 to alternatively work 42 and 56 hours a week. Loudoun County firefighters work 42 hours a week and are paid $59,347, when converted to a 56-hour workweek for comparison purposes. That means that they receive a higher hourly rate, but receive around $44,510 per year for working 14 hours less per week than Alexandria firefighters.
In Fairfax County, entry-level firefighters work 56 hours a week and get paid $56,841, while Arlington County pays $53,410 for a 56-hour work week.
Jinks also budgeted $360,000 for six new firefighters, which, he says will help cover minimum staffing levels. The proposed budget also provides for a 25% decrease in health insurance premium shares for employees earning salaries of $70,000 or less.
Under the budget proposal, AFD battalion commanders would earn 9.14% less than their regional peers, captains would earn 9.01% less, lieutenants would earn 7.87% less, and rank-and-file firefighters would earn between .029% more and 6.37% less than regional peers.
There are about 300 AFD staff, and the city loses an average of two firefighters a month to retirement and transitions to neighboring jurisdictions.
Fire Chief Corey Smedley said his latest batch of firefighter recruits will only cover minimum staffing levels.
“Right now, we have two academy classes going, totaling of 33 people,” Smedley said. “One comes out March, one comes out in May, because we still have three engines that don’t have standard minimum staffing and we’re increasing staffing on those three engines so they will help with the relief factor. They’ll actually increase our minimum staffing on those three engines so that we have full staffing on every apparatus.”
For several months, Smedley has worked on employee compensation issues with the city’s Public Safety Work Group, which includes representatives from the city manager’s office, the police and the local firefighters union.
When asked if he wants his staff to get paid more, Smedley said, “Absolutely.”
“Some of the things we’re looking at is to increase our grade and step procedures and how to get to a certain pay grade,” he added. “We’re also looking at increasing our pay.”
AFD Captain Josh Turner, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2141, says that firefighters are being lured away from the city. Fairfax County, for instance, allows lateral transfers, meaning that firefighters moving from other jurisdictions can keep their ranks.
“Why would I stay in Alexandria when it will take me nine years to get paid as much as one of our regional comparators?” Turner told ALXnow. “Last year we spent $5.4 million in overtime. I have guys who are working more than 700 overtime hours… When you continue to be the lowest paid in the region, Alexandria becomes a training ground. Recruits can work six months with the academy and then go to Loudoun or Fairfax or Arlington. That’s always going to be a problem until the city fixes it.”