Franklin raising pay for dozens of volunteer firefighters to try to keep them

Franklin City Council Monday approved raising the hourly rate for volunteer firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics to help attract and retain their volunteer members. Franklin operates a combined fire department with volunteers and career firefighters. The hourly rate was increased more than a $1 an hour in each step of the pay range. FILE PHOTO Franklin will join the Carlisle and Franklin Twp. fire departments are teaming up to apply for a federal grant to obtain new self-contained breathing apparatus equipment for all three departments.
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Franklin City Council Monday approved raising the hourly rate for volunteer firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics to help attract and retain their volunteer members. Franklin operates a combined fire department with volunteers and career firefighters. The hourly rate was increased more than a $1 an hour in each step of the pay range. FILE PHOTO Franklin will join the Carlisle and Franklin Twp. fire departments are teaming up to apply for a federal grant to obtain new self-contained breathing apparatus equipment for all three departments.

Franklin City Council on Monday approved a raise to help with retention of paid volunteer firefighters.

City Manager Sonny Lewis said most of the volunteer firefighters are at the midpoint in the city’s nine-step pay range. He said he hopes the adjustment in the volunteer firefighter pay scale will help the city be more successful in attracting and retaining Fire/EMS volunteers.

“Sometimes I feel we’re a training ground for them to go elsewhere to work full-time,” Lewis said. “And there’s no guarantee they’ll stay with the increase.”

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The raise in each step is more than 12.5 percent, or more than $1 an hour.

At step 1, the hourly rate for:

  • a volunteer firefighter will go from $8.85 to $9.96 an hour
  • a volunteer EMT will go from $9.29 to $10.46 an hour
  • a volunteer paramedic will go from $10.65 to $11.99 an hour
  • a volunteer firefighter/paramedic will go from $14.04 to $15.80 an hour
  • a volunteer firefighter/EMT will go from $11.41 to $12.85 an hour

Fire & EMS Chief Jonathan Westendorf said Franklin has 36 to 38 paid volunteer firefighters on its roster. Franklin Fire & EMS has combined full-time career fighters and is supplemented by volunteer call and stand-by firefighters, EMTs and paramedics.

At Monday’s meeting, council met in executive session to discuss contract negotiations with its full-time career firefighters.

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Westendorf said the city also has a program to help volunteer firefighters acquire EMT and paramedic certifications in exchange for a five-year commitment. He said the training costs for an EMT certification could be as much as $850 and as much as $8,000 to $11,000 for paramedic certification which takes more than 1-1/2 years to complete. Westendorf said about $1,500 a year is forgiven for each year of service to the city.

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“It’s been very successful,” Westendorf told council. “Part of the challenge is staying the five years.”

A lot of volunteer firefighters will work for multiple fire departments, he said.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there were an estimated 29,727 fire departments in 2015, or 9 percent career/full-time fire departments; 6 percent mostly career fire departments; 18 percent mostly volunteer fire departments and 67 all-volunteer fire departments.

In 2015, there were an estimated 1.16 million firefighters in the U.S. — 345,600 career firefighters and 814,850 volunteer firefighters, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, which is an entity of the Homeland Security Department.