Question: Does the Indian River County, FL Emergency Services Department Need to Address Retention?

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The Indian River County Department of Emergency Services (IRCDES) may need help with the retention of firefighters and first responders.

We have learned from an Indian River County (IRC) Public Records Request that there were 80 firefighters/first responders who resigned the workforce in the past three years.

Resigned in 2015 – 20

Resigned in 2016 – 27

Resigned in 2017 – 21 (as of September)

Using an average of 23 resignations per year, with 282 reported firefighters (as of October 30) who serve in 15 IRC fire stations (this is always fluctuating due to turnover) represents annual turnover of 8%.

However, on October 23 we learned from a reliable source that IRCDES lost eight firefighters in the last three weeks.  Does 21 resignations as of September may mean 29 as of October? That would be 10% turnover.

We have been unable to find any data on retention rates on emergency services departments in other counties/municipalities in Florida and in other states to see how this percentage compares.

But what is the cost of these turnovers from the IRCES recruiting process; as well as administrative overhead?

Then there is training for newly hired firefighters/first responders.

Unfortunately, IRCES did not have any documents responsive to our request on how many firefighter/first responders are under the age of 21, the average level of experience and the cost to train a new hire.

(We were curious if there were any firefighters who, under the drinking age, are responding to emergencies.)

In terms of training we were able to find this data:

According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, “The cost to train and equip a firefighter can exceed $20,000.
 Below are average expenses associated with firefighting. Please note product costs vary depending on a variety of factors, and these are just estimates. Certain pieces of equipment, such as radio and thermal imager, may not be provided to every firefighter. Training costs vary considerably from state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction, depending on what level and types of training are required.”

 

Helmet $ 300 Gloves $ 95
Coat $ 1,200 SCBA $ 6,300
Pants $ 875 Radio $ 3,700
Boots $ 300 Thermal Imager $ 1,200

 

 

Hood $ 40 Training $ 7,800

Bearing in mind that some of the equipment costs referred to above are non-renewable costs (helmets, gloves, coats, pants, boots, radios, etc.) that get turned over to the next new hire, let’s assume the cost is $ 15,000,  If 30 people were to resign in a year, 30 X $ 15,000 = $ 450,000.

Other data gathered with the Public Records Request is that only 149 of the 282 firefighters/first responders live in IRC.  That means 133 firefighters/first responders and their families live outside IRC, in another county.

These 133 people come to Indian River County for their shifts and go home to Port St. Lucie, Ft. Pierce, Fort Lauderdale, Wellington, Lauderhill or West Palm, for example.

It seems most live south of Indian River County.

There they buy groceries and other goods and services for themselves and their families.  What is the cost of that loss of commerce?

Starting pay is roughly $ 42,000 for a fire medic in IRC.

If $ 42,000 is starting pay, less $ 4,166 in Federal taxes (taxcollector.com), then $ 37,834 is presumedly spent outside Indian River County.

133 firefighters/first responders who live outside Indian River County x $ 37,834 spent outside IRC = $ 5,031,922 in lost commerce.

IRCES has no program, like the sheriff’s department, to develop young people from Indian River County into future firefighters/first responders.

Then there is the compensation.

We found a job opening for a Firefighter Paramedic in Lauderhill posted on indeed.com on October 23, 2017 with a starting salary of $ 57,067 (Lauderhill-fl.gov).

Question: Could there be a pattern?

 Given the turnover, could there be a pattern that some of the 133 firefighters/first responders came to Indian River County for a job, get trained, and then plan to leapfrog back to West Palm or where ever to be closer to home?

Here’s is some data on with what pay is being offered elsewhere.

According to the Martin County Board of County Commissioners Classification and Compensation Manual, revised June, 2017 the starting pay for a Firefighter EMT is $ 43,118 (Step one of 12) and a $ 49,915 for a Firefighter Paramedic (Step one of 12).

The City of Fort Lauderdale Pay Plan as of October 8, 2017 has the starting salary for a “firefighter” is $ 49,212 (Class 635; fortlauderdale.gov).

The city of Gulfport is advertising for a Firefighter/Paramedic with a salary of $ 47,911.50

But then, to be fair, there is an indeed.com posting for a Firefighter/EMT or Firefighter/Paramedic in Melbourne with a starting salary of $ 38,054.

We suspect that many of the counties south of Indian River County have better pay and benefits, which is where most who do not live in Indian River County come from.

And it seems clear that it is often more expensive to hire a Firefighter Paramedic than to hire a Firefighter/EMT.

We are just raising the question. Does the Indian River County Department of Emergency Services need to address retention?