Ga. chief: City-trained firefighters leaving for higher pay

Brunswick Fire Chief Randy Mobley said the starting pay of $9.29 an hour is the primary factor behind the department’s perpetual revolving door

By Larry Hobbs
The Brunswick News

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — A newcomer to the Brunswick Fire Department will earn $9.29 per hour to rush into a burning building.

That comes out to $28,370 per year when with their 24 hours on, 48 hours off schedules.

Brunswick Fire Chief Randy Mobley said firefighters are being trained by the city, only to leave for higher pay somewhere else. (Photo/BFD)
Brunswick Fire Chief Randy Mobley said firefighters are being trained by the city, only to leave for higher pay somewhere else. (Photo/BFD)

Brunswick Fire Chief Randy Mobley said this bottom line is the primary factor behind the department's perpetual revolving door, in which firefighters the city hires and trains soon depart to fight fires elsewhere for more money.

Mobley said the majority of the 19 firefighters who left the Brunswick Fire Department in the last 12 months left for higher pay.

"I have exit interviews with the firefighters who leave here," he said. "And I have copies of their resignation letters. And for the majority of them, it is pay -- pay and benefits. Mostly pay."

Losing Brunswick firefighters to better paying firefights has been a perennial issue for the city, but it received a public airing Saturday at a Brunswick City Commission retreat at the city's multipurpose center on I Street. Mobley said Monday that he spoke from fact, not frustration, when he told commissioners something must be done to stem the attrition rate.

He said the department is low on experience at the basic firefighter level because so many leave as soon as possible rather than remain to move up the ladder through promotions within. There is also a concern about maintaining a sufficient number of firefighters who are experienced at driving fire trucks, he said.

"Something's gotta be done," Mobley said. "We lost almost half of our firefighters in the last 12 months. That includes six this month. We are in pretty good shape with our (ranked) officers. The big turnover's on the bottom."

The Brunswick Fire Department's full contingent is 40 firefighters. It presently has 31. Two of the department's nine unfilled positions are fire truck drivers, Mobley said. Many of the department's regular firefighters also are trained to drive, but it is important to have experienced drivers on each shift, he said.

"So far we've been pretty good," he said. "We train more (drivers) than any department in the state. Our training and the level of safety for the community has not dropped. But people don't realize what kind of training we have to go through to be firefighters. It's not just pulling a lever, turning a knob and saying, 'OK, there's your water.'"

Starting pay for a certified Brunswick firefighter is $9.29 per hour, or $28,370 per year with their schedules, according to Josalind Brinson, manager of Brunswick's Human Resources Department. Uncertified officers start at $8.85 per year, or $27,030.

The average Brunswick firefighter earns $9.70 per hour, Brinson said. If all goes as it did the two previous years, firefighters will receive a 3 percent raise in July, she said.

By comparison, Glynn County Firefighters start at $33,500 per year, County Fire Chief R.K. Jordan said. The starting salary does not differentiate between certified and non certified firefighters, Jordan said. The county too has seen its share of firefighters leaving for departments that offer better pay, he said. However, the 10 percent raise that all county public safety employees received in July of 2017 has helped the department retain firefighters, Jordan said.

The county department had 16 vacancies this time last year, he said. All of those are presently filled, he said.

"We've been fortunate enough to have a lot of recruits from Brunswick," Jordan said. "I couldn't tell you why. I stay out of that process. But one of the things that helped us out a great deal was, we were able to hire quite a few people after the county gave public safety a 10 percent raise."

Mobley said a similarly significant pay increase for city firefighters might be less costly in the long run than the money spent to train firefighters who then leave for better paying jobs. Sending non-certified candidates to the fire academy costs the city several thousand dollars for each hire, he said.

Then there is the necessary training conducted on the job to raise and maintain firefighters' competency, he said.

"The public is still safe and we are still a top notch fire department," Mobley said. "But it takes four to six months to train a new firefighter, just to be able to do the basics. We are concerned about the costs of the turnover rate. The training and the hours add up. It gets costly."

Copyright 2018 The Brunswick News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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