City responds to firefighters’ complaints over pay

Published 7:44 am Sunday, July 31, 2022

The city of Lake Charles and Lake Charles local fire fighting union had scheduled a meeting prior to Monday, July 25.

“Before the demonstrations began, the city administration had a meeting scheduled to discuss concerns,” said John Cardone, city administrator.

Lake Charles firefighters were on the corners of Broad and Ryan Streets on Monday and Wednesday morning to make the public aware of their starting wage, $11.17 per hour.

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The American Press submitted a public records request for more information about the LCFD starting wage, how the annual salary is calculated and details about other benefits.

The base annual salary for a first-year firefighter is $39,400. That’s calculated at $11.17 an hour x 2,912 hours, plus the built-in overtime pay of $870 and supplemental pay of $6,000.

As firefighters are promoted in rank, pay increases, according to city officials. State law mandates that pay for certain ranks be the following percentage over the starting pay for a starting firefighter: driver makes 10 percent more; captain makes 25 percent more; district chief makes 40 percent more; and assistant chief makes 50 percent more.

Information from the city also included the following: “The Firefighter 1st Class and Driver Qualified positions are not included in state law. The city created these positions to increase pay upon reaching certain milestones as a firefighter.”

Those milestones were not included.

The 2021 gross annual income averages by rank are as follows: firefighter, $43,397; firefighter first class, $68,098; drivers, $66,125; captains, $81,155; district chiefs, $78,717 and assistant chiefs, $91,352. These figures include base pay, an average income based on all overtime hours worked and paid holiday, vacation and sick leave. Figures were higher across the board in 2020 according to the city’s records, as firefighters played an important role in responding to natural disasters.

A two percent longevity increase kicks in at the beginning of the fourth year of service for firefighters. The city contributes an average of 33 percent of the firefighter’s total pay into their retirement fund. The total fiscal year 2021, the city of Lake Charles retirement contribution for the LCFD was $2.7 million. A firefighter must be 18 years of age to be hired and can retire after 30 years. At 30 years of service, Lake Charles firefighters are eligible to retire with 100 percent of their salary. If the firefighter elects to stay on the city’s health insurance plan, the city pays $500 per month to assist with health insurance costs, a potential $30,000 benefit.

Cardone acknowledged the Lake Charles Fire Department does not have a pay matrix at this time, but such a matrix would offer predictability to employees. However, he warned that if it is not carefully crafted it could result in inconsistencies regarding pay among ranks, years of service.

“The city’s legal and finance department are currently reviewing the establishment of a pay matrix for LCFD,” he said. There are multiple versions of work shifts utilized by cities and private industry throughout the state. The city is open to discussions about adjusting the shifts worked by the LCFD.”

LCFD has 133 employees in fire suppression out of an allotment of 157. The average tenure of a Lake Charles firefighter is 14 years. Currently, 88 firefighters have 10 or more years of service, 31 have 20 or more years of service and five have 30 or more years of service with the department.

Also in response to the records request, the city of Lake Charles emailed the American Press the dates of and amounts of across the board and longevity board increases for all its workers due to city council action. Jan. 1, 2022, workers received a three percent across-the-board increase and eligible employees received a two percent increase. In January 2023, the same thing will happen. In January 2024 and January 2025, workers will receive an across-the-board two percent increase and two percent longevity increase for the eligible.

That means in January 2025, the first year firefighter’s annual salary will be $41,788.22 based on the current shift and working only the built-in overtime pay.