RAPID CITY, SD – Recruitment and retention of firefighters and other emergency workers has been a frequent problem for the Rapid City Fire Department, which officials say has the lowest starting pay among fire departments in South Dakota.
This year’s recruitment of seven new emergency employees fell short of the department’s 10-person goal.
In addition, the department is also seeing a trend of firefighters and other employees leaving after a few years for higher pay, often taking thousands of hours of training paid for in Rapid City with them to other agencies.
The problem of attracting and retaining talented staff is mainly because Rapid City pays its entry-level firefighters and emergency service staff the lowest salary in the state compared to other fire departments, according city Community Resources Director Jeff Barbier.
But that is about to change due to recent contract negotiations between the city and the firefighters’ union that will boost pay for new recruits.
On Wednesday, the city Legal and Finance Committee unanimously recommended approval of the contract that was recently agreed upon between the city and the International Association of Firefighters that increases the entry-level salary by 18 percent.
Starting on Jan. 1, 2017, salaries will rise from $38,000 to $45,000 annually for new recruits, including firefighters and other emergency personnel who are represented by the union.
In order to balance the increase in initial salaries, the union had to concede on other wage issues. Union members have traditionally been awarded annual raises during as many as 36 years of service. But starting in 2017, this step-raise will be capped at 25 years. After that, veteran workers will only receive a cost-of-living increase, which is set by the state.
The contract between the city and the union will last from Jan. 1, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2022, with the option to renegotiate wage issues every two years.
According to Barbier, the negations were not contentious and both sides walked away feeling good about the deal.
“Both sides have a lot of respect for each other and the negotiations went really well,” said Barbier on Wednesday.
The full city council will vote on this agreement at its next meeting on May 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the City/School Administration Building at 600 Sixth St.