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Charleston firefighters protest for better pay in front of City Hall

Published: Jun. 21, 2022 at 5:32 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 21, 2022 at 7:58 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Dozens of Charleston firefighters lined up on the sidewalk in front of city hall in downtown Charleston because they say they’re not getting paid enough to live where they work.

Charleston Firefighters Local 61 said the starting pay for a firefighter in the City of Charleston is currently less than $39,000 per year.

They also add that they had a 90-day study that was completed last month that investigated pay compared to cities such as Atlanta and Savannah. They said Charleston ranked either towards the middle or in the bottom third of those cities.

The firefighters said they are asking Charleston City Council to increase their pay, stating they have to work longer hours to make ends meet.

“Especially with the pay, you start off in the academy around that $17.30 mark with a high school diploma,” Charleston Firefighters Local 61 member John Baker said. “As soon as you get to the line, it drops. What also happens is your hours increase. With the recent pay studies that have been done in Charleston, it takes a whole lot of money, and we’re not seeing that within the fire department.”

Some of the protesters sat in the gallery during the Charleston City Council meeting Tuesday...
Some of the protesters sat in the gallery during the Charleston City Council meeting Tuesday night, holding signs that read, "We support Charleston firefighters."(Live 5)

City of Charleston report takes deeper look at firefighter pay

A workforce update report froom the Charleston Human Resources Committee compared the turnover rates for city firefighters, city police and non-sworn city employees. The report found that the Charleston Fire Department had the lowest turnover rate, about 8.49%, of the three types of city employees in 2021. The Charleston Police Department turnover rate was listed at 10.96% in 2021, while the non-sworn employees turnover rate was 25.58%.

The report also compared base pay for Charleston firefighters with and without a bachelor’s degree and found the Charleston Fire Department had the highest pay in the region, ranking in the 41st percentile for starting workers with a high school diploma and in the 29th percentile for workers with a bachelor’s degree.

A workforce update report from the Charleston Human Resources Committee compared starting pay...
A workforce update report from the Charleston Human Resources Committee compared starting pay for Charleston firefighters with a high school diploma and with a bachelor's degree against other fire departments across South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia to rank Charleston's starting pay.(City of Charleston)

For those with a bachelor’s degree, Charleston firefighters have a higher starting pay than any other department in the Lowcountry and second only to the Greenville Fire Department in the state.

The report took a closer look at starting pay and its progression over time. For firefighters starting with a high school diploma, the starting pay is $38,936.12 per year. But that increases at six months to $42,927.08, and again at the one-year mark to $45,073.44. After five years, a firefighter with only a high school diploma can reach a salary of $57,526.39.

By comparison, a firefighter with a bachelor’s degree would start at $44,577.97, which would increase to $49.147.21 at six months, to $51,604.57 after the first year and to $54,184.80.

Tuesday night’s demonstration comes just days after the community paid tribute to the Charleston 9, the nine city firefighters who died battling a furniture store in West Ashley 15 years ago.

At the time, the incident bore the highest number of firefighter fatalities in a single event since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

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