By Rachel Dove
WILLIAMSON - They run into a burning building while everyone else is running out. They are professional firefighters.
Citing the fact that they have not received a pay raise since 2008, member of the International Association of Firefighters Local #968 in Williamson addressed the Williamson City Council on Thursday night to request an increase in their salaries.
Lt. Steven Casey was the first to speak.
“On behalf of my fellow union firefighters, we would like to present to the council a request for a pay increase. We have prepared justification for our request and we ask that you give it your sincere consideration,” Casey said.
Statistics were shared with the council that showed how the department’s call volume had increased from 243 calls in 2008 (the last year a raise was given) to more than 900 in 2013. The department’s ISO rating of 3 is comparable to those of fire departments in Morgantown, Wheeling, Beckley and Clarksburg. The annual salaries for those departments range from $36,000 to $38,500 a year, compared to the $26,500 annually in Williamson.
“This rating is why people in this city can afford homeowners insurance,” stated Lt. Garrett Gregory. “If the ISO rating was higher, our residents’ premiums would be quite a bit higher.”
“Enclosed is a copy of our policy that requires all firefighters to have EMT certification,” Gregory said. “Most departments get incentive pay for extra qualifications received on the job. We do not.”
Casey explained about the fire department in Williamson being self-sufficient, saving the city from quite a few costs.
“Our building saves the city money with the installation of energy-saving solar panels and energy-efficient windows, ceiling tile and a solar-powered hot water heater,” Casey said. “An outside company also monitors our output of energy to help with cost.
“We are the only department in the city that cleans their own building. We are constantly completing tasks that would ordinarily cost the city money, or would be more expensive or would not be completed at all,” he said. “These things include outside landscaping and painting the interior of the department (first and third floors, engine rooms, stairwell). Reed’s was contracted to paint the second floor last year and charged over $3,000. We painted a lot more than they did and it cost nothing in labor. We were only out the cost of the paint and supplies.”
The firefighters also completely reassembled their fire pole (the highest one in the U.S.), installed light bars on apparatus, which would have cost a minimum of $500 per vehicle if it would have been done by a professional, installed their own radio equipment at a savings of $300 per vehicle, and do all general maintenance and electrical work in-house. The firefighters say they are proud they have had no major expenditures that the city was required to pay.
The firemen also said that, since 2002, just shy of $900,000 worth of federal and state grants have been awarded to the Williamson station, which allowed them to purchase equipment and complete updates that greatly improved the quality of their department, again at no cost to the city.
The department has lost one full-time firefighter that was not replaced, creating a savings of around $30,000 a year, The firefighters are asking for a 10 percent pay raise which, based on the current salaries of the six full-time men, would average somewhere in the vicinity of $20,000 a year.
Carey spoke of the increase in living costs, and said that the firefighters must work a second job to support their families.
“We love what we do. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be here. We put our lives on the line every time we put on these uniforms. We are simply asking for a raise that, although it would still leave us far from the average pay of other paid departments in the state, would be a great help,” said Carey, who is the only critical care paramedic in the county. Carey is also employed by STAT Ambulance and Health-Net, and said he would not work three jobs if he was not forced to do so financially.
“We are constantly searching for ways for our department to be more self-sufficient. I’d say we are the only department in this city that thinks about keeping our overhead costs low,” he said. “All we’re asking for is a raise in pay in return for a job well done.”
Councilman Matthew Thornsbury made the motion that the request be tabled until the new mayor and council member get settled in their positions and have the opportunity to review the city’s finance reports. The motion was seconded.
Mayor Darrin McCormick commended the firefighters for going above and beyond the call of duty and praised them for doing a fine job of keeping the citizens of Williamson safe.
“We’re asking that you please remember the request we presented here tonight and, if and when the budget allows, give us the raise we deserve,” Carey said.