HOUSTON – The Firefighters’ Union and the chief of the Houston Fire Department have two different stories to tell when it comes to the rate of attrition at the Houston Fire Department, which continues to suffer from low morale and below-average pay.
So who gets the raise?
The raise is for HFD cadets, essentially firefighter trainees at the Academy. The substantial pay bump moves this group (of approximately 100 Friday) from $28,023 to $36,000 annually. This class of employee is not covered by collective bargaining.
Where are the firefighters going?
Every year, like in every organization, people retire. But the rate of attrition has increased lately because of the prolonged battle over firefighter pay, which has remained stagnant for years. Channel 2 Investigates has shown how firefighters in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio make more money.
How many have left this year?
The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association and the Houston Fire Department, officially, at least, appear to use slightly different metrics. A source within the fire department cites that 85 firefighters have submitted separation paperwork since Jan. 1
HFD Chief Pena provided the following statement:
“HFD budgeted for 155 attrition in FY20. As of 2/19/20, we are at 135, as confirmed by finance. We have been approved to hire 180 cadets this year and currently have 104 in training. We continue to actively recruit for attrition and have recently increased the starting cadet pay to $36k per year.”
How does this affect Houstonians?
Channel 2 Investigates has learned on certain days, HFD misses national standards for minimal staffing. In such cases, firefighters work overtime to cover the gaps. That is expensive labor and can destabilize and tire the workforce.
Also, the turnover means that cadets that were trained with City of Houston tax dollars are taking that training to other municipalities.