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Benefit concert, pay raises are 'Band-Aid' for Raleigh firefighters

Posted April 9

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— Sister Hazel took to the stage Sunday night for a benefit concert that will support local firefighters nearly one month after first responders battled the massive fire in downtown Raleigh.

The event, sponsored by Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association, comes just days before the one-month mark of the massive fire in downtown Raleigh. It was the largest fire in decades and roughly 130 firefighters battled the blaze overnight.

People have been singing the praises of the fire department since the historic fire, but Sunday night, people's love for a good concert went to programs directly linked to firefighters.

“They’ve always been recognized as being very courageous people, but I think the level of support they’re getting now has been above and beyond what it’s been in many years in the past,” said James Black with Professional Firefighters and Paramedics.

The fundraising concert also comes right as city employees, including firefighters, are expecting pay raises, which Keith Wilder said they had been fighting for since the economic downturn in 2008.

“It was the first time I can ever recall hearing a firefighter say ‘yep, I’m on public assistance’,” Wilder said.

An analysis for the city of Raleigh showed the salary structure for city employees was not competitive enough. Firefighters are expected to get a 10 percent raise in their starting salaries, which would mean a new employee would earn about $37,000.

Overall, the raises will cost the city about $1.8 million. Wilder believes the raise came in response to years of lobbying.

“I would say the idea was to get people up to a livable wage, to take away our argument that we have people on public assistance and the question is why any government employee is qualifying for public assistance, so it was the right thing to do,” he said.

Sunday night’s concert doesn’t fix all the woes of the men and women who run into burning buildings, but in the shadows of the massive fire and on the heels of the pay raise, the support felt good. Still, there is a long way to go.

“To call it a Band-Aid right now wouldn’t be a bad thing because we needed a Band-Aid. We were hemorrhaging, so I would not say that’s a bad thing, but yes, this should not be the end,” Wilder said.

The Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association tries to hold two benefit concerts each year, which typically raise several hundred thousand dollars.The money goes directly back into the community programs for the association.

As for the additional raises, Wilder said they will be watching the city budget very closely.

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