Nanaimo firefighters wages rise steadily

Remuneration for Nanaimo’s firefighters dominate the city’s recently released list of municipal employees making more than $75,000 annually during 2011.

While the list grew to 176 municipal employees making that amount or more – that’s up from 112 employees in 2008 – firefighters account for 76 of those positions.

Of those, 24 firefighters exceed the $100,000 mark with 16 fire captains making between $100,000 and $107,000 annually.

In 2008, only four firefighters, all chiefs or assistant chiefs, made more than $100,000.

Firefighters are currently negotiating a new contract with the city, which is expected to be completed later this year. Under the current contract, Nanaimo’s International Association of Fire Fighters union members received an annual wage increase of almost four per cent.

That means a firefighter making about $85,000 in 2008 is now taking in on average $12,000 more.

Nanaimo Fire Chief Ron Lambert said as an industry, firefighter wages throughout the province are consistent with each other, and IAFF locals bargain based on other communities in the province. He added that the roles of firefighters have changed considerably over the last several years and that members have had to become more diverse in their training.

“What has happened with firefighter wages is that there is parity with Vancouver,” said Lambert. “As an industry, firefighter wages throughout the province now, for the most part, are consistent with one another. And these numbers are based on all of our firefighters’ incomes aggregated, including training programs and overtime.”

Lambert added that firefighting is only one part of his members’ duties under the current contract. Medical response, technical rescues, public education and vehicle extrication all require high levels of training.

“Arbitrators have decided the standard,” he said.

On average each year, Nanaimo firefighters respond to about 5,000 calls. Of those, 60 per cent are medical response.

Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan said he wasn’t in a position to comment on firefighters’ wages because they are at the bargaining table, but he did say protecting the citizens of Nanaimo is a council priority.

“It’s expensive, yes, but there are standards to be met and people expect a certain service level and we have made it a priority to provide that,” said Ruttan.

He added that because of Nanaimo’s linear shape, ensuring proper response times is a challenge. A new fire hall in Chase River, which required hiring 20 new firefighters over the last two years with total wages of about $2 million, was built in 2010 and another hall on Hammond Bay Road, not far from the Pacific Biological Station, is in the works.

“It’s definitely not getting less expensive,” he said.

In 2012, protective services, which includes police and fire services, account for $23.6 million and $12.5 million respectively, or one-third, of the city’s $118.9-million operational budget.

RCMP members receive federal paychecks.

Overall, municipal employees with remuneration greater than $75,000 cost taxpayers $16.7 million while all 750 union city employees cost $28.1 million, for total city staff remuneration of $44.9 million. Topping that list was city manager Al Kenning who earned $223,269 while Doug Holmes, general manager of corporate services and assistant city manager, made $180,816. Twenty-seven other union excluded management earned more than $100,000.

Remuneration for the city’s elected officials in 2011 cost taxpayers $290,573.

Each year, owners of about 30,000 taxable properties in Nanaimo generate about $86 million in tax revenue.

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