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'Hottest Job': Salaries Cost City, County Too Much

August 09, 1990

I would like to comment on your firefighter article ("L.A.'s Hottest Job," July 27). The firefighters have never gotten the publicity that the police do in a job that is probably more dangerous. The Los Angeles County firefighters in particular set a standard in bravery, professionalism and quality of service that is the envy of every agency in the world.

But the compensation for those outstanding men is unconscionable in a world of limited resources. Entry-level salaries of $35,000, journeyman at $45,000, and supervisor at $60,000 for a job that takes about one year of post-secondary education and training is just the start. Benefits of early retirement and prime medical add another 80% to 100% to the total.

The work is very easy by any standard. One fire call a day is a hard day. Most days are spent polishing fixtures, reading the paper and sleeping, so they can do some real work on their second job. If a firefighter does paramedic and actually has to respond to calls, he gets about a 15% bonus. Early retirement and second jobs make firefighters the quintessential double-dippers. With these wages, benefits and duties, it is no wonder why hundreds of applicants appear for every job opening.

The fault does not lie with these outstanding men. It lies squarely with the members of the Board of Supervisors, who are afraid of opposing the police and fire associations. Los Angeles County and the city have always paid higher than any other agencies and dragged the rest of the market behind them.

And what is the financial status of this lavish spender? Los Angeles County cannot pay for hospitals to provide care for AIDS victims, cannot provide welfare service, has no jail space, sanitation disposal sites, etc.

In a world where government cannot seem to make rational economic and service decisions--we need only cite the current budget impasses in Washington and Sacramento--the county's policy to pay firefighters (and sheriffs) top-of-the-market wages is the height of the irrational.



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