Charleston fire union wants higher wages

Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 6:44 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston Fire chief says calls for service in the department increased 11 percent this year to pre-pandemic levels. Even with the increase in call volume, some say the pay they’re getting isn’t enough to live in the city of Charleston.

John Baker, who is the secretary of Charleston Firefighters Association Local 61, said it’s hard to live and work in Charleston with the current wages they’re getting.

“We want people to live in the community they serve,” Baker said.

Starting Jan. 28, an entry-level firefighter/EMT in Charleston will be making $12.88 cents an hour, which is up 50 cents from before, according to Baker. Here in Charleston, the chief said they work 24-hour shifts, and then they get 48 hours off. Baker said they have to work a minimum of 106 hours to get overtime.

Charleston Fire Chief Daniel Curia said many of his firefighters live a considerable distance from the city of Charleston.

“I think the really important conversation is, what does a firefighter in Charleston make compared to what it costs to secure housing in Charleston. If you factor the housing component in, then it paints a picture in which many of our firefighters don’t live in the city of Charleston,” Chief Curia said.

Chief Curia says there are currently 42 vacancies in the department.

“Last several weeks, the people that have left the Charleston Fire Department they all have not mentioned pay as a factor, but the predominant theme has been the cost of living, specifically related to the housing,” Chief Curia said.

William Pesature, the vice president for the Professional Firefighters Association of South Carolina, said keeping firefighters on the job is a problem across the state.

“It’s like a massive evacuation in the fire service all over the state,” Pesature said.

They say retaining firefighters with experience is crucial for not just the department, but for the community. Chief Curia said when they have a 10 percent vacancy rate, experience leaves the department.

“We just want to make sure that in the coming years, we have the experienced firefighters that are with the City of Charleston to provide that service,” Baker said.

“The service we provide to the community doesn’t suffer because of the pay issues. But I do think the pay issues that are being brought to light are things that need to be addressed and I’m certainly working with Mayor Tecklenburg and city council members to make sure those things are addressed,” Chief Curia said.

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