Raleigh firefighters push for retirement benefit to improve retention

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Thursday, April 18, 2024
Raleigh firefighters push for retirement benefit
Raleigh firefighters push for retirement benefit

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Raleigh Professional Firefighters Association is hoping the City of Raleigh will incorporate an added retirement benefit, to help keep firefighters from leaving to other cities with better benefits, or leaving the professional as a whole.

Andrew Davis, the President of The Raleigh Professional Firefighters Association, said there's a lot at stake if it doesn't happen.

There are already 38 vacancies in the city, and new firefighting positions haven't been added in the city in a decade despite booming growth. Davis believes they need to add new fire positions and stations to provide adequate service to city, but they're having trouble keeping the firefighters they train now.

"It takes about $24,000 to train every single recruit that comes through here. We're currently losing about 35% of every academy after five years. So, we're seeing $300,000-400,000 of taxpayers money go out the back door after five years of an academy. To me, that is extremely fiscally irresponsible," Davis told ABC11.

Davis believes the most realistic ask to Raleigh City Council is to request a retirement benefit called a separation allowance, rather than trying to raise pay for their firefighters. The separation allowance they're requesting would provide about 25% of their salary from retirement until the age of 62, when social security kicks in, as long as the firefighter has served 30 years. The average Raleigh firefighter retires at the age of 55.

The current pension for Raleigh firefighters provide roughly 55% of their ending salary.

"That's very hard to live on considering you can't touch your 401K for several years, your 457s, your IRAs, things of that nature without penalties. So, it's kind of difficult sometimes to go from what you're making here to retirement, when you're facing larger medical bills, different things of that nature," Davis said.

When he referenced medical bills, Davis talked about the high rates of cancer firefighters face during and after serving. Firefighters are twice as likely to develop testicular cancer and mesothelioma than the average person, they're also at an elevated risk of developing a multitude of other types of cancer, like skin, brain, prostate, and colon cancer.

"Obviously, we could get hit on the interstate by any one of the cars that fly by us. We can get trapped in burning buildings. We can fall through roofs, we can run out of air and burn and suffocate inside structures. But that, honestly, is the minority of the way firefighters die. The way that firefighters are most often dying now is by cancer," Davis said, adding that 73% of Line of Duty Deaths are now cancer-related.

He emphasized that firefighters don't join for the money.

"You're signing up for extremely higher cancer rates, extremely higher heart attack rates, sleep deprivation, which affects every single aspect of a person's life, higher divorce rates, lower fertility rates, all sorts of negatives that you're signing up for, and if you look at that, nobody's here to get rich. They're here because they have a servant's heart," Davis said.

He also added that the duty of a firefighter goes beyond what the community might realize.

"We come here to serve. We come here to be a good neighbor - if that's filling up a bicycle tire, if that's helping a kid with a school project, or if that's walking into a burning house across the street to look for a dog, or a cat, or sister, or brother, or mother, or grandmother," Davis said.

He said that he believes they do have a consensus among Raleigh City Council members to add this benefit.

"Five councilors have vowed to vote yes on this topic," Davis said. "City staff then has to come up with figures and numbers on what it would cost to add that to the budget, and here we are close to the end of April, and we have still not seen any presentation back to the public eye on what these figures were would cost."

Davis is concerned that it's taking so long to present this information to the public to consider adding it to next year's budget.

"It's time we see these numbers released in the public eye so that councilors can have time to mull them over, so that the residents of Raleigh who pay the taxes, who pay our salaries, who pay council salaries, as well as the City Manager's, have time to mull over the numbers and provide feedback to council so that it's not a rush decision," he said, adding that he remains optimistic about the city's decision.

The budget is expected to be released on May 21, 2024.

The separation allowance is a benefit that law enforcement already gets in North Carolina. On top of adding it for firefighters, Davis said they're also fighting to add it for emergency communication center workers as well.

If you are interested in reaching out to Raleigh City Council to express your thoughts about whether the separation allowance should be added as a benefit for Raleigh Firefighters, you can reach out to them collectively by emailing citycouncilmembers@raleighnc.gov.