The Orange County Fire Fighters Association, which represents employees who work for Orange County Fire Rescue Department, says employees are paid 15% to 46% less than surrounding communities and comparable departments in the state of Florida. The union also notes a problem with the rate of attrition that could have an impact on local public safety.
“Orange County Fire Rescue is an organization that has seen an increase in calls for service of 138% over five years, an increase of EMS transports of 51%, with a decrease of personnel by 8%,” OCFFA said in a statement from Public Relations Director Scott Egan.
Mayor Jacobs’ office responded saying Orange County “hopes to reach a resolution as soon as possible.” But that answer doesn’t sit well with local fire fighters, who also protested during Mayor Jacobs’ recent State of the County address. In responding to the union’s concerns about better pay, Orange County government repeated what Jacobs said at last month’s speech: “Without raising taxes, Orange County is investing $30 million over five years to fund three new fire stations as well as a new fire apparatus and partial funding of a regional fire training facility to meet the escalating demand.”
Meanwhile, the OCFFA mocked Mayor Jacobs’ use of “world-class” description for our community while she drags her feet on increasing fire fighter wages. “Orange County Fire Rescue is a ‘World-Class’ Fire Department, providing an above average service, but given a below average pay,” a union statement said.
“Orange County is committed to fair pay and benefits for our emergency responders in keeping with neighboring counties,” a fact sheet provided by Orange County states. “The County benchmarks salaries with Seminole, Lake, Osceola, Brevard and Volusia counties as well as the City of Orlando.”
That point may raise questions as Orange County should be a leader in our region, not a follower of smaller surrounding counties with less demands on firefighters and emergency responders. Orange County’s place in the region does not make it truly comparable to surrounding counties, especially in terms of public safety demands and emergency responses.
Orange County officials also tried to downplay concerns about the rate of attrition with local fire fighters. “The rate of attrition has not significantly increased year over year for firefighters who self-report as leaving specifically for another job,” the Orange County Fire Rescue Contract Negotiations fact sheet states. But the union has a different take.
“Fire fighters are leaving for better paying departments at a rate of 30-40 per year,” OCFFA also said in a statement. “Every time a fire fighter leaves, more money must be spent to train his/her replacement, leaving less experienced fire fighters and paramedics to respond to the citizens and visitors of Orange County. Orange County cannot afford to be a training ground for other agencies.”
Orange County does admit they do not have data to back up their statement, as it is not collected. “Often, personnel only indicate they are leaving for ‘personal reasons’ or may not disclose their reason for leaving. We do not capture data regarding the pay rate of jobs for which individuals are leaving,” the county fact sheet adds. Outside of that fact sheet, Mayor Jacobs’ deferred all comments about the issue to a statement from Orange County.
“Orange County is currently involved in negotiations with our Fire Rescue Union for a three-year contract. The last three-year contract expired on September 30, 2015. We remain committed to investing in facilities and equipment so that our firefighters can continue to provide superior services to Orange County citizens and visitors. We also remain committed to compensating our firefighters in a fair way in line with compensation norms in the surrounding counties while maintaining a balanced budget. The County will not provide any comment related to ongoing contract negotiations. We look forward to finalizing a contract that serves the mutual best interests of our firefighters and our taxpayers.”