Charleston, South Carolina – The City of Charleston firefighters are asking for increased pay since the current pay is not adequate with the cost of living.
According to Charleston firefighters union, firefighters sometimes have to travel for half an hour to get to work because they usually can’t afford house withing the city limits. One of them is Brian Axelrod, the president of Charleston Firefighter Association local 61 union, who said he lives out of the city because he can’t afford the cost of living with his current earnings.
“I can’t tell you how many people we have lost,” Axelrod said. “The majority of those people leaving it ultimately boils down to pay.”
Taking into consideration the rising prices, inflation and the higher cost of living in general, the problem is going to be even bigger resulting with staffing shortages. With the most recent policy changes, a firefighter with a high school diploma will make $12.88 an hour starting January 28. That brings a total of $38,000 salary before taxes.
“I would just like to be able to see our members that are new here are afforded the opportunity to live in the communities that they serve,” Axelrod said.
The fire officials are aware of this saying that this problem has been here for years, but it’s getting worse lately since the local fire departments are seeing more vacancies than ever and rising concerns over the future.
ABC News 4 had an interview with the Fire Chief Dan Curia.
“Do you think that firefighters are being paid enough?”
“Well, I think what we need to do is we need to differentiate the pay that firefighters make in the city of Charleston and what it costs to live in the Charleston area,” said Curia.
Curia is concerned that the pay might be the major factor why the department is not able to keep the first responders and make the job more attractive in hiring new firefighters. He agrees that the firefighter pay needs a second look.
As per the data provided by Curia, 10% of the total number of agency’s workers left in 2021. Right now, there are more than 40 vacancies in the Charleston Fire Department. However, Curia believes the ‘level of coverage that the residents and visitors of Charleston receives has not suffered’ as he agrees that the firefighters pay must be more competitive.
“We can’t ignore the hourly rate, we can’t ignore the annual salary, but what we have to figure out is how do we pay a Charleston firefighter enough so that he or she can secure housing in the city of Charleston so that we can retain them,” Curia said.
Curia added that he has been in talks with the officials regarding the problem and he hopes to see an improvement in the upcoming period.