Local News

Raleigh firefighter works several jobs, uses Medicaid to make ends meet

Posted July 20, 2016 6:15 p.m. EDT
Updated July 20, 2016 6:49 p.m. EDT

— Many Raleigh police officers and firefighters say they can’t afford to live in the city they serve and protect, and they are blaming the city’s pay structure.

The starting salary of $33,654 for Raleigh firefighters ranks far below neighboring areas of Wake Forest and Morrisville. First responders say young recruits are getting trained in Raleigh and then moving to another town where they can make more money.

“They can come here, get all their training and certifications, stay for the minimum time the city requires so they don’t have to pay back a fee then go to another department making $4,000, $5,000, $6,000 more,” said Professional Firefighters Association President Keith Wilder.

Officials said this trend will leave Raleigh at a safety disadvantage if it continues.

“We hear all the time employees are the backbone of Raleigh’s great government, employees are the backbone of what makes this system work so efficiently in how we are able to do more with less. We’ll be the first ones to agree with that, but people are tired of getting gold stars on their spelling test. They want to see it reflected in their paycheck,” said Professional Firefighters Association President Keith Wilder.

Police are asking for a 10 percent raise while firefighters are hoping to see a 7 percent salary increase. City leaders are asking for patience while they commission a compensation study that will consider comparable cities and restructure Raleigh’s pay scale.

Jason Brown said six years as a Raleigh firefighter has meant tough times for his family.

“Since I’ve been with the fire department, I’ve had them on Medicaid,” Brown said. “I spend most of my time working, finding odd end jobs, working my part-time job.”

Wilder said Brown’s story is not unique.

“Most everyone I know works a second job,” he said.

Brown said he loves the city and will stay, but acknowledges that decision comes at a price.

“At the station, I leave there, go home, catch a nap, say hey to the kids and run to my next job,” he said.

City leaders would not comment except to say the compensation study is set to be completed by the next fiscal year.