BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Union leaders at the Bloomington Fire Department are sounding the alarm over staffing concerns they say are caused by a record number of firefighters leaving for higher-paying departments.
Shaun Huttenlocker, secretary with the Bloomington Metropolitan Firefighters Union, said the department used to only lose a few firefighters a year, mostly due to retirements.
“By the end of March, we will have lost at least five, potentially six, to higher-paying departments,” Huttenlocker said.
In the past two years, the union said the department has lost 23 firefighters. Huttenlocker said it’s because the department’s base pay is just under $57,000 a year.
Numbers from the Professional Firefighters Union of Indiana show Bloomington, the state’s 6th largest city, ranks 73rd out of 128 departments in terms of base pay.
“There are 25 departments within 60 miles that are making more than Bloomington fire,” Huttenlocker said. “We’ve got people leaving to make $20,000 more a year.”
The union surveyed its members who listed pay as their biggest reason to want to leave and find other work. That survey showed if pay were corrected, firefighters would prefer to stay in Bloomington.
Huttenlocker said when those firefighters leave, it leads to overworked firefighters and puts public safety in jeopardy.
“It makes people feel a little underappreciated when they see other departments making significantly higher, and when they see people leaving at such large levels and the city still doesn’t do anything to adjust,” Huttenlocker said.
Bloomington Fire Chief Jason Moore said he doesn’t dispute that the department’s pay is not competitive and has led to staffing issues. However, he said fixing “years of neglect” will take time.
“They have been years where they took 0% pay raises,” Moore said. “You don’t catch up on that overnight.”
The city gives firefighters a 3% bonus on top of their guaranteed 2% raise this year.
However, the union wanted to renegotiate its contract early to address the pay disparity. The city said no.
“The current mayor doesn’t think it’s appropriate because it’s a reelection year and he is not running for reelection,” Moore explained.
Moore said significant investments have been made in upgrading equipment and fire stations. Investments in pay are something he said he’ll continue to advocate for.
“The challenges were facing, pay is one issue, it’s not the only issue,” Moore said. “I don’t think pay is going to fix everything. Pay is one piece of the issue that needs to be dealt with.”
While they’re grateful for the investments that have been made, union leaders said they’re not sure they can afford to lose more people at this point.
“At the end of the day, some of those things don’t really increase the safety of the public where the personnel will,” Huttenlocker said.
When FOX 59 reached out to Mayor John Hamilton’s office they deferred to Chief Moore.
For more information, visit the union’s Facebook page here or view the union’s data and pay comparisons between different departments below.