Conversation with a Firefighter / Paramedic

Throughout our analysis of the county budgets, we have been somewhat critical of Fire / Rescue. We observed that the growth of their budget (even adjusted for service area size) was significant over the last 8 years, and the firefighters in the county are compensated more than 50% above the national average from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

How much should we be paying for a well equipped Fire and EMS service though? This and related issues formed the basis of a recent dialog between a county firefighter from south county and TAB in a comment thread attached to one of last year’s postings.

Our correspondent argued that “bringing the emergency room to the patient” is expensive, and successful outcomes require multiple vehicles and staff to respond. Fighting fires or dealing with medical emergencies is skilled and dangerous work, deserving of pay and benefit premiums. Comparisons with the private sector are unfair, given the unique nature of the work, and so much has changed in the last 8 years in both equipment and expectations, that growth in unit costs are justified.

For our part, we considered the dangers inherent in some private sector jobs and how those are compensated, aspects of the 48 hour work week versus private sector expectations, and the studies we have performed comparing PBC Fire/Rescue to peer groups.

Both points of view have compelling aspects, and we thought the TAB readers would find them interesting. The threads are reproduced here – you be the judge. Are we being unfair to PBC Fire/Rescue?

The thread begins with a response to the conclusions in “Palm Beach County Pay and Benefits – How Much is Enough?“.

May 10, 2011
2:10 pm
Split the two careers (Firefighter / Paramedic) into two separate careers. Paramedic Firefighters are what’s known as “Dual Function” positions. Across the country there are fire rescue agencies that are not Advanced Life Support – Paramedic / Transport capable services. So when doing an analysis / comparison across the country, are you comparing apples to apples?

And for the sake of argument, if your one sided / prejudiced bar graphs and charts are correct, after having digested all of the factors such as the one above: ….. When you’re comparing salaries and benefits in South Florida to the rest of the country and you’re asking “Why are we paying more?” …. Could one also interpret that to mean: “Why are we taking better care of our first responders, than the rest of the country? … They should be following our lead” ????

May 11, 2011
12:32 am
These are all good questions, but comparisons to other jurisdictions can be misleading. For example, the Town of Palm Beach just settled a contract with their firefighters. What was arguably the best pension deal in the county (3.5% accrual compared to 3% in FRS) is now one of the worst. Will that change their level of service? How important is a pension plan in retention and hiring in this economic environment? I guess we will see, but since there are few if any jurisdictions hiring at present it may take a while.

That town took this action because the current plan was not affordable. All around the country are examples of county and municipal contracts that promised more than could be delivered, even with a good economy. Now we have FRS reform, but the deal is still very much better than in the private sector. Palm Beach Gardens is about to renegotiate their Police and Fire contracts. While the outlook is not as severe as in Palm Beach, it will still mean take-aways.

How much should a firefighter be paid? Compared to what? Should it be 4 times what a teacher makes and one and a half times a Sheriff’s deputy? Why is that? Is a deputies job less dangerous or less skilled? Are teachers not contributing as much as firefighters? How do you answer questions like these?

In the private sector, the worth of a job is easier to determine. An employee contributes to the bottom line of the company in a measureable way and can be compensated directly. Salesmen earn commissions based on sales. Professionals are compensated for the intellectual property they create. If the company gets into trouble the workers are laid off. The company’s earnings depend on the performance of their employees.

In the public sector, everything and everyone is a cost center. Public sector employees create no wealth or generate profit. They use resources taken from the private sector to deliver services to the public. In the case of local government, police and fire are important, basic functions, but the proportion of available resources spent on these services are not spent on others (like teachers or bus drivers or accountants). One could argue that we need police more than we need parks or streetlights. Should all the resources be used for public safety?

The average compensation (salary and benefits) for a private sector worker in Palm Beach County is somewhere around $60K, and that worker is not likely to have a defined benefit pension. County staffers make a little more than this, teachers a little less, but both have good pension and health plans. In PBSO the average compensation is about $100K, but for Fire/Rescue it is $150K. Either special risk employee can retire at an early age on a high percentage of their salary, and then go start a different career. That private sector worker is paying some of that $60K to fund the salaries of the public sector workers who have better job security, higher pay and benefits, and likely work fewer hours. Is that an equitable arrangement? Will it last?

Public sector employees, particularly those in strong unions, have had a pretty good run in the last decade, and it is not likely that they will lose too much in the retrenchment that is coming. It took the current economic crisis to shine light on where the tax dollars are going. Perhaps now there can be an open dialog about pay and compensation. Florida is is much better shape than other states. By looking at states like California or New York (or countries like Greece or Ireland), we can get a glimpse of where this is going if we don’t come to grips with it.

May 13, 2011
1:01 am
I’m sorry, I guess I’m just having a hard time digesting the assumption that the Town of Palm Beach is in, or headed towards dire financial straights. And when you’re talking about a “Arguably best pension deal in the county” one has to remember that it was just a few short years ago that the town of Palm Beach pay and benefits for their firefighters was below that of the city of Riviera Beach firefighters. Compare the socio-economic make up, and property values between these two municipalities, and explain how this could happen?

So …… coming from that type of history, then going to what you describe as the best pension deal in the county, for s short period of time, and then they pull the rug out from under them, it’s a hard pill to swallow.

Your argument / comparison between Police, Firefighter, Teacher, and asking why aren’t the Teachers and Police making what the Firefighters make, is somewhat pitting two blue collar careers against the one. My answer to that would be that the teachers and the police should be brought up. 10 Police officers in Florida have been killed this year alone, and we’re only 1/2 way into 2011. If you can show me a private sector job in Florida that’s as dangerous, and they’re not making what Police officers and Firefighters are making with pay and benefits, then I’d have to say that that private sector employee is getting screwed. There’s a reason why the two careers – Police Officer and Paramedic Firefighter are called “High Risk” ….. Aside from the obvious high risk as far as physical injury / trauma / death, there’s the long term health – high risk, with regards to disease exposure, hazardous material exposure, and finally physical and mental stress exposure. So, think about that when you find yourself wanting to continuously compare the Private Sector – Low Risk, to the Public Sector – High Risk.

The Firefighters work a 48 hour work week. (Town of Palm Beach’s imposed contract, tacks on an additional 8 hours, forcing them to work a 56 hour work week now) …. So when you’re comparing the high risk workers to the private sector, and you’re saying that the high risk workers “Likely work fewer hours” and ask is this “Equitable” ?? ….. I believe that the private sector is still putting in a 40 hour work week, so how does one derive 56 Vs. 40 as “Fewer Hours” ?? ….. If you’re working off the assumption that Paramedic Firefighters work one day on, two days off, you’re mislead. 24 hr shifts mean that you start at 07:00 A.M. on Monday, and at 12 midnight you begin working your final 7 hours on Tuesday. So, you’re working two days on, one day off. And once again, you’re working a 48 hour work week. (8 hours more than the 40 hour worker)

The Town of Palm Beach also referred to what you describe above regarding Firefighters retiring at a young age, and can go on to work another job. I will ask you this …… Do you think that it’s fair that you ask your high risk employees to put in 30 years, and pay them a salary and benefits that are built on the premise that they should find themselves another job after they’ve retired from a 30 year career faithfully serving their community in a high risk position?

Lets talk about the job a little. Paramedic Firefighters today, are not exposed to what Firefighters were exposed to years ago. Firefighting equipment and procedures have gotten a lot safer and more advanced over the years, but the amount of firefighter fatalities has stayed steady. This is because the materials used in modern day construction, and furnishings, are not made with the “Ordinary Combustibles” of yesteryear. Buildings and furnishings today, burn hotter, faster, and give off more toxic fumes / gases, than ever before. So …. even if we’re fighting fewer fires than yesteryear, reciprocally the decrease in quantity, is made up for in the increase in quality.

The town of Palm Beach’s town manager used the 90% Vs. 10% ammunition. (90% Emergency Medical Service Vs. 10% Fires) ….. I forget what point he was trying to make, if in fact he even had a point, but if he was trying to discount the dangers / the risks, think about what I just described above. Also think about the dangers and risks that the Emergency Medical Service part of the equation entail. This is the part where most likely your private sector workers will tell you “You can’t pay me enough to do that !!”. And that includes blood, feces, urine, saliva, vomit, ect. …… Diseases with many syllables. You get the drift right? ….. We deal with this stuff in an uncontrolled / unsterile environment. It’s when we get to the Emergency room at the hospital, that’s where it gets sterile, and de-conned.

So …… 25 / 30 years of working on 2 year olds who jump up and down on their bed at night and get caught up in the window shade cord and strangle them self to death, but not right away because we pull out all the stops, and go the extra mile to try and revive them, with the distraught mother bouncing off the walls behind us. Or trying to revive them after they’ve been pulled out of the backyard pool where they were submerged for over 6 minutes and not breathing, or trying to revive someones 90 year old grandmother, pulling people out of twisted car wrecks, out of canals, lakes, ponds …. Pulling people out of landscaping shredding machines after they’ve been torn to pieces, the drug over doses, the psychologically impaired, the suicides, the domestic disputes, the false calls, and on and on and on.

Yes, 25 / 30 years of that ……. And then thank them for their service and tell them to go get another job. Nice

May 14, 2011
11:05 am
You have several main themes here, so let’s address them one at a time.

First there is risk, comparing public sector “high risk” to private sector “low risk”, and the wage and benefit premium that is “fair”. There is no doubt that being a firefighter involves risk – as a matter of fact, most analysis considers that job as the 13th most dangerous in the nation, with 7 deaths per 100,000, right behind police officers with 16 per 100K. I am not in any way minimizing the risks you mention. However, the most dangerous 11 jobs in the country are all in the private sector, from fishing (#1, 129 deaths per 100K, $30K/year), logging (#2, 116 per 100K, $31K/year), on through farmer/rancher, structural construction worker, sanitation worker, pilot, roofer, coal miner, merchant mariner, miller, and power line installer. If you check the BLS numbers you will see that most of these occupations make considerably less than firefighters in PBC. Then of course there is the military. As a veteran I can tell you that most soldiers and sailors are not in it for the money.

The special-risk class in FRS originally had a specific purpose. At inception it was intended to provide an equivalent pension at 25 years that a regular-class employee would get at 30, reflecting the physical demands of the job. This was achieved with the initial special-risk accrual of 2% / year (compared to 1.6% for regular-class). About 10 years ago, this was upped to 3% and made retroactive, and parity was replaced with significant premium. The current system, combined with 3% COLAs and the ability to spike the final earning years with overtime and bonuses allows many in that class to soon make in retirement, more than they made when working. Not a bad deal, wouldn’t you say?

From your comments, you are not painting an accurate picture of the “private sector”, where the norm now is a 401(k) plan rather than defined benefit one, if you get a pension at all. If you are one of the 21% who do have a conventional pension, typically you can retire at 65 or after 30 years with about 1/3 of your salary. If the position is salaried (also known as “exempt”), which applies to most management, professional and clerical jobs, you don’t get overtime but are expected to work more than 40 hours a week to stay competitive. Most people in high tech jobs (my experience) routinely work 60 hour + weeks under significant stress and typically need to be available 24×7. There are very few jobs in government (except at very high levels) that expect this of their employees. The private sector is also at a disadvantage in job security, health benefits, sick time, vacation, and other aspects that are routine in government jobs.

Regarding the 48 hour workweek – yes, two 24 hour shifts do add up to 48 hours, but having 5 out of every 7 days off provides flexibility that most jobs do not offer. It is not unusual for firefighters to spend their off-shift time working another job or running a business. Nationwide, I think Kelly days are the exception and most shift rotations result in 56 hour work weeks.

You raise the issue of the 90% EMS versus 10% Fire. (I think the county number is 87%). What is relevant here is not the risk involved on the call but the economics of how the call is answered. In jurisdictions with separate (and/or private) EMS, a medical call is answered with a single unit with the relevant equipment and trained staff. In the county, it appears that EMS calls are answered by both EMS and Fire equipment. I don’t know if this is policy or not, but I have observered that calls are answered with multiple vehicles. Each has a minimum 3 person crew, including a Lieutenant (EMS) and a Captain (Fire). There may be a valid reason for this, but it is not the way a private EMS company would respond.

There is a national debate over the size and scope of government, and the recession has been shining a bright light over the advantages that government employees now have over the rest of us. There was a time that lower salaries were the price of absolute job security and better than average benefits. No longer. Compensation in the public sector has made great advances over the last decade and is now considerably superior to similar work in the private economy, reaching almost double at the federal level for equivalent positions. Where salaries have not advanced, benefits – particularly pension benefits have lept ahead, placing burdens on the future cash flow of state and local governments. This is partly due to the private sector losing ground in the recession while government has stayed the course, but that is about to end, as governments are also going broke. Watch California for a glimpse of what may be the future. Florida and PBC may be in better shape than most, but it is time that these matters were discussed openly.

May 14, 2011
4:12 pm
Good information. But I’m still having a problem understanding your point. Let’s start with your first paragraph that lists occupations that you say are more dangerous than the career of a Paramedic Firefighter, and then you list their salaries, as comparatively much lower than a Paramedic Firefighter in Palm Beach County. Once again, your point? …. I’m assuming that you’re suggesting that the salaries for these “Higher Risk” jobs, are fair. That a logging company, or roofing company that turns a pretty good profit, should in turn be able to pay their employees $15.00 an hour? And out of that $15.00 and hour, that employee should be expected to carve out their own pension investment, their own medical insurance, and get small incremental raises that do not keep up with the cost of inflation? …. There is most likely a lot of statistical data that would either skew your numbers, or possibly show that there’s maybe a logical explanation why the number of fatalities in these professions are so high. Like maybe the turnover rate because these workers go on to find better / higher paying jobs, which increases the revolving door – turn over rate, which increases the lack of experienced workers who’ve been on the job longer and the safety value of this, I don’t know. I do know this … I grew up on Long Island, and there’s a Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, Nassau County. You make mention of Merchant Marines above, in your list of comparative occupations that are as you infer, more dangerous than that of a Paramedic Firefighter, and are making less. Before I left New York in 1982, Merchant Marines were making somewhere in the area of $90,000.00 a year. Not too shabby, wouldn’t you say? …. I also would say that FP&L linemen are making a pretty good living as well. Just to mention a couple.

I won’t even get into the amount of continuing education credits, and continuous ongoing training required for the Paramedic Firefighter, after the training and education required to get certified in both disciplines, Vs. other private sector occupations that you’re making comparisons to.

I have a high respect for veterans. Thank you very much for your service to our country. My father was Army. The Korean theater. After he was released from the service, he was able to buy a nice home for our family with his V.A. loan, and for the rest of his life there were other various benefits that my father was afforded because of his 4 year stint in the military, including V.A. health care benefits. That 4 year stint also included room, board, clothing, and food. I am in no way discounting his commitment, and his service to our country. So there is obviously a little more to a military salary than what some people leave out, when they’d like to pit the military against first responders with regards to pay and benefits. And once again, the argument that first responders should be brought down to military is somewhat backwards. Some would argue that the military should be brought up to what first responders make. And when you do a cost comparison between the two, with regards to all of the other benefit costs aside from just salary, I’d be interested to see how far off the two really are.

Your comparison between the private sector and the public sector with regards to hours worked, and that your high tech job requires you to put in 60+ hours, and is high stress. Much respect from me to you. But my question is this, what are the risks of your high stress tech job, putting in that many hours? …. What I mean by that is, what’s the worst that can happen if you fail at any given time in your high tech position because of fatigue or stress? …. (On the job) …. The profession of a Paramedic Firefighter requires getting it right 100% of the time. Failure can mean the difference between living or dying, both for the Paramedic Firefighter, and / or the customer. Surely you can agree. Once again, your reference to 48 hours, and defining that as two days, is misleading. It’s 2 days on, one day off, and a total of 48 hours = 6 – 8 hour days. A Paramedic Firefighter must stay in a government building for 24 hours, subject to an emergency call at any time during that 24 hour period. Yes, some do have side jobs, or teach on the side, or own a business on the side. Is your point that no one in the private sector works another job, or has a business above and beyond their base employment?

Your reference to the way a call is answered in Palm Beach County regarding the usage of multiple vehicles and personnel, that you compare to the private sector, as if this is a waste. What you’re failing to understand is that the level of Advanced Life Support service in Palm Beach County dictates that certain procedures are followed, and certain tools, equipment, and supplies are used to provide this advanced service. The modern day Emergency Medical Team is basically bringing the Emergency Room to the patient. This requires man power. Years ago, Paramedic Firefighters were not carrying 12-Lead EKG’s, weren’t carrying Glucometers, or using the advanced airway adjuncts, and various other tools / equipment, or performing the myriad of tests that they’re performing now. And the customer demands this level of service. If the private sector will promise you that they can do it with less, I would venture to say that they’re misleading you. A Cardiac Arrest patient who requires CPR, Electro-Shock therapy, Intraveneous lines, Airway intubation, Medication administration, and someone to document this all, with the time line, along with all other pertinent information needed for the hospital could be handled by one private sector vehicle? …. I guess that might be possible. But their shouid be at least 5 or 6 people on that vehicle, with all the necessary equipment. That would make it a pretty big vehicle. Your statement about supervisors on the different rigs (Lieutenant / EMS – Captain FIRE) ….. And how a private company doesn’t do it this way. I beg to differ. The private provider ambulance companies that operate in Palm Beach County have supervisors on most if not all of their trucks. You’re treading down a slippery slope when you compare “For Profit” against not for profit, regarding emergency services.

If you really want to get into a “Waste” discussion, lets talk about municipalities that have borders against each other, and 3 fire stations all within a mile or two of each other. Each fire station covering their municipality only. How many municipalities in Palm Beach County have their own emergency services, separate equipment, separate communications, separate maintenance and supply facilities, separate purchasing contracts with weaker purchasing power, ect ect ect …… And this wouldn’t be the fault of the Emergency Service Providers themselves. This would most likely be more of a league of cities – autonomy – what’s ours is ours – identity thing.

Ending question – What percentage of the Florida State Retirement system, is part of the over all state budget ?

May 14, 2011
5:35 pm
Comparison of dangerous job categories can be found at various places, including The Daily Beast, Forbes, and Business Insider among others. My rankings came from the first of these which lists the salary of a merchant mariner as $61,960 and a firefighter as $45,700 (which is approximately the Bureau of Labor Statistics national average, and much less than the $71,800 average of Palm Beach Fire/Rescue in 2009). BLS is the source for much of the information, including fatalities per 100K.

The point of this is not to argue which jobs carry more risk, but to suggest that risk alone does not correlate strongly to compensation. You would hope that in a free country where both employers and employees constitute a labor market and can make free choices, that compensation would correlate strongly with the perceived value of the services provided. Risk would be a part perhaps, but not the major driver.

Perhaps the PBC Fire/Rescue provides a service that is truly worth the 52% premium it gets over the national average, I don’t know. You make a good case that it is expensive to bring the emergency room to the patient, and if I was having the emergency I would be grateful for the service. In jurisdictions where the equipment and training level is less than this, (many parts of the country, presumably, given their costs), then I assume more people die before receiving treatment. It would be interesting to gather those statistics as a way of bolstering the case.

I do know that in the 8 years since 2003, the Fire/Rescue budget has grown 82% when its service population only grew 26% and staff only grew by 36%. Most of the budget growth was in personal service costs, not equipment and infrastructure. The IAFF is a very good bargaining unit and deserves the appreciation of their members. It is both appropriate and expected that the union should negotiate the best deal, that is not the problem. It is the county administration and commission who sit on the other side of the table (and are supposed to represent the taxpayers) that should explain to us why our services cost more than others. This applies to PBSO as well as Fire/Rescue. County staff spending growth has been somewhat restrained in the last few years.

The municipalities that still have their own Fire/Rescue services (37% of the county at present), have made their choices for various reasons. Cost would be one – the budget growth in the county Fire/Rescue exceeds that of the cities whose budgets we have examined.

At the state level, as at the county, the 2011 employer contributions for FRS were 9.63% of payroll (regular class) and 22.11% (special risk). This falls to 3.77% and 12.96% respectively, for 2012 if the governor signs SB2100.

May 14, 2011
10:57 pm
Your comparison of the career “Firefighter” vs. Merchant Mariner as it relates to a national average. Is your BLS data comparing “Paramedic Firefighters” … Or just Firefighters, as you’ve written above? ….. As I’ve said up above, one has to view the service provided as a “Dual Service”. And to get a true value based comparison between salaries of these occupations, you’d need more data than what these website’s you’re using, are providing.

For the last 25 years, the fire rescue budget has been run quite fiscally responsible. Everything’s been basically paid off, without the need for bond issues and the like. This would relate to your equipment and infrastructure data. I don’t know if the municipalities can lay claim to the same. I’m assuming that the municipalities that came into the county system must have come in for a fiscal savings component. The city of Boca Raton has used their fire rescue system as a marketing tool for annexation. They promised the citizens of Boca Raton big increases in level of service, with less taxes. If you’ve read the local newspapers in the last few years, I don’t think their taxes have remained stagnant.

Your right about health / life risk data not being the only analysis that should be made. Your numbers regarding population and staff growth, as it relates to this discussion prompts me to ask you, has “Demand” remained stagnant? Has the call volume gone up or down? …… In an area that has a population fluctuation that widely goes up and down as it relates to tourism and snow birds, and the population that travels through the major highway arteries of Palm Beach County, can you get a true picture of how many human beings are physically in this county and need to be protected at any given time, and does your data reflect this?

All of the occupations you use as your safety / salary comparison, how many of them require college credit training? ….. I believe the pilot, and merchant marine categories are pretty much the only ones. So yes, there’s more than just the safety factor to consider.

Have you done any studies that would show that if the municipalities that represent the 37% which have kept their own fire rescue services, would benefit as a whole by consolidating into one department? ….. Do you have any charts that would possibly show over lapping with regards to fire stations from several different agencies, that are basically on top of each other? Several agencies with their own multi-million dollar communications set ups? Their own multi-million dollar training facilities? …. You say that these municipalities have made these choices for various reasons. You’d probably be best served by examining those reasons first, before going after the lively hood of your first responders and their families. Your last statement didn’t answer my last question above. What is the FRS percentage of the total state budget?. Another question: What is the median price of a home in Palm Beach County at this time?

May 14, 2011
1:36 pm (Edit)
So many questions. I sense our world views are so divergent that any agreement on these issues would be improbable.

So here is an offer – make your case that the 52% premium is justified, or that it is misleading or incorrect. Or make the case that the extra spending saves lives and that the PBC EMS performance far exceeds the peer group. We will run your article as a feature story and distribute it to the TAB mailing list.

But be forewarned – it is a tough crowd that leans towards the view that county spending has been excessive. But we are rational people and will give it a fair hearing. You can send it to:

May 15, 2011
6:04 pm
Yes, lots of questions, and lots of factors to be considered before making informed opinions / informed decisions. As far as tough crowds go, there are a few here in Palm Beach County. One of those is a crowd that is probably the biggest demand of the Fire Rescue / E.M.S. system. That would be our elderly population here in Palm Beach County. And the odd thing about these customers, as it relates to your argument here, is that a lot of these people are “Homesteaded Out” …. Which means they pay little to no taxes, yet use the system extensively.

One can almost draw a comparison with your argument of why are we paying the Paramedic Firefighters X amount of dollars, and what are we getting for our money? … With … Why are we paying for this system, yet the people who use it the most, are not? ….. But I seriously doubt you’d wanna go up against that crowd, no matter how tough your crowd is.

And the ironic twist here? —> I would venture to say that there’s a strong possibility that a lot of these elderly residents of Palm Beach County, are parents of the tea party people who would attack the first responders as over paid.

May 16, 2011
5:50 am
Making my case is easy. Include everything I’ve talked about above, with this …….

In the past 25 years, I can personally assure you that there are at least 4 human beings, 4 tax paying citizens in Palm Beach County, that went into what’s called “Ventricular Fibrillation”, which is a cardiac condition where the heart stops beating and begins to “Fibrillate”, (Which means that the heart that normally has one dominant natural “pacemaker” of it’s own, fails to be the dominant one, and little pacemakers all over the heart begin vying / competing to take over and become the dominant one – Basically.) that the Paramedic Firefighters who immediately applied the EKG monitor and made the diagnosis of this life threatening heart problem, applied the defibrillation paddles to the patients chest, performed the defibrillation, which basically sends a large electric shock and depolarizes all of those little pacemakers in the heart at once, with the hopes that the dominant pacemaker will take back over and lead the heart into beating normally again … worked … and got the heart beating normally again, the Paramedic Firefighters were then able to quickly administer medications through an intravenous line that they initiated / established, and were able to administer medications carried in their box to sooth / relax the heart (It’s gone through a traumatic event here, and is still irritable and could quite possibly go right back into ventricular fibrillation), administer oxygen to the patient for the very same reason, and these 4 human beings regained consciousness before arriving at the Emergency Room, and were released back to their families several weeks later, with no residual, neurological deficits.

So there’s at least 4 human beings in Palm Beach County, (That I personally know of) that I would challenge you to ask they and their families: “Are Paramedic Firefighters worth what we pay them?”

Now those are just a few examples of people that have been brought back “After” crossing the thresh hold of deaths door step. (That I personally know of) ….. Let’s talk about the hundreds, if not thousands that I personally know of, who have been stopped “Before” crossing the thresh hold of deaths door step, by Paramedic Firefighters in Palm Beach County.

A few of these conditions would include, but not limited to …….

The heart conditions that are extremely dangerous, and require other intravenous medications, or electro-shock therapy, to treat the problem and either stabilize it (With Oxygen), or correct it, prior to entering the Emergency Room.

The condition known as “Congestive Heart Failure” or simply “C.H.F.” … (This is where the side of the heart that is relied upon for dispensing the oxygenated blood from the lungs, to the rest of the body, begins to slow down / fail, which then causes the blood to back up into the lungs, basically causing the patient to now drown in their own fluid.) where the Paramedic Firefighters quickly apply oxygen, initiate an intravenous line, administer a medication they carry in their box called “Lasix” which works in the kidneys to drain the fluid that is built up in the lungs, thus allowing them to breathe normally again, prior to entering the Emergency Room.

The Diabetics who are in what’s called “Insulin Shock”, this is where their blood sugar levels are dangerously low, and the Paramedic Firefighters would know this because they have equipment that immediately tests their blood sugar level, and are able to immediately establish an intravenous line, and administer a medication in their box called “Dextrose” which is a medication that is basically brings their blood sugar level back up to non life threatening levels before entering the Emergency Room.

The drug over doses (Accidental or Intentional) where Paramedic Firefighters are able to immediately establish an intravenous line to administer a medication they carry in their box called “Narcan”, which treats Narcotic over dose and brings the heart back to a normal rate / rhythm, brings the blood pressure back up, brings the patients level of consciousness back up, …. once again, before entering the Emergency Room.

Just these three examples, which are just three of many other life threatening conditions that Paramedic Firefighters are trained and equipped to handle, are examples of hundreds if not well over a thousand, that I can personally attest to, that your Paramedic Firefighters have saved from crossing over the thresh hold of deaths door step in the last 25 years. So ….. If you were to gather up all of these patients and their families, and ask them if Paramedic Firefighters are worth the money they’re paid, I would venture to say that the majority of them, if not all of them would say yes. Well worth it, and then some.

There are just a few examples.

Then, as part of your analysis / as part of your information gathering, to make an informed / balanced / non biased opinion, and advice to your elected officials, I would challenge you to ask Paramedic Firefighter peer groups (Both private and Public providers) around the country basically the same question, but slightly modified. ………. “Do you think that Paramedic Firefighters in Palm Beach County Florida, are paid a fair wage that’s equitable to the cost of living / cost of buying a home in Palm Beach County?” ……

Sorry …. A lot of questions, a lot of information. But the web page here says: “Speak your mind, tell us what you’re thinking.” ….. Please feel free to share all of this with your tough crowd. Thank you for your time. Over and out.

Pension Reform – the Final Bill

On Friday May 6, the conference committee put the final touches on FRS Reform and sent SB2100 to the Governor. Although it is not as far-reaching as the Governor wanted, it is significant, both in the precedent it sets (employees must now contribute to their pensions) and in the budget savings for both the state and the counties that participate in FRS.

The conference staff analysis summarizes the highlights of the bill as:

  • All FRS members must now contribute 3% of their earnings to the system.
  • For pension dollars accrued after July 1, 2011, the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) of 3% is eliminated. (This is grandfathered in the bill in 2016, which leaves it up to a future legislature whether it will be restored. Sort of like the “Bush Tax Cuts”.)
  • For participants who enter DROP after July 1, interest accrues at 1.3% instead of 6.5%.

Additionally, for those who enroll in FRS after July 1, 2011:

  • “Average Final Compensation” (AFC) is the average of the highest earning 8 years (not 5).
  • Vesting occurs after 8 years (not 5).
  • Age and service requirements change to age 65 / 33 years (not 62/30) for regular class and to age 60 / 30 years (not 55/25) for special risk class.

To calculate the budget impact to the county, we must refer to the “employer contribution” section of the bill that starts on page 180 of the final conference amendment. The contributions are 3.28% of gross compensation for regular class, and 10.21% for special risk. (This compares with 9.63% and 22.11% this year).

That’s not the end of it though – the final amendment adds a section to “address the unfunded actuarial liabilities of the system” with an additional employer contribution of 0.49% and 2.75%, starting July 1 for regular and special risk, respectively. This amount then bumps up to 2.16% and 8.21% in 2012.

Taking these figures and applying them to our database of county employee compensation, finds that the county-wide savings in the first year would be $48M ($98M including the schools) and $26M in the next year. The first year savings breaks down as follows: $15.4M in county staff, $20.6M in PBSO, and $11.6M in Fire/Rescue.

The Florida Association of Counties has done a similar analysis state-wide and calculated that the savings for all counties would be $615M in the first year.

Legislative Update – 5/5/11

As the Legislature winds down the session, there has been much progress on the bills we have been tracking that relate to county budget issues. The following is a status:

Pension Reform

SB2100/HB1405 having emerged from conference on Friday May 6, has been sent to the governor. From the House bill, the plan adopts the 3% employee contribution and retirement eligibility of age 65 / 33 years for general class and age 60 / 30 years for special risk. From the Senate bill it eliminates cost-of-living adjustments for accruals accumulated after July of this year. The DROP program, eliminated in both underlyihg bills, was retained in the compromise, but the interest rate was reduced from 6% to 1.3%. One feature that appears to be new is the redefinition of “average final compensation” from 5 years to 8 years, which will reduce the base upon which a pension amount is calculated. The provision in the House bill to restrict new hires to a defined contribution plan only did not survive.

We estimate the savings for the county to be about $48M in the first year, based on the “employer contribution” section of the bill. See Pension Reform – the Final Bill for the details of the analysis.

Smart Cap

CS/JSR958 State Revenue Limitation, also known as “Smart Cap”, was sent to the Governor on May 4. Placed on the 2012 ballot will be a constitutional amendment that replaces the state’s current cap based on personal income growth, to one based on population and inflation, similar to Colorado’s TABOR. It differs from TABOR in one important respect however – the cap is based on the previous year’s cap, not on revenue. This has the effect of preventing the “ratcheting down” effect that can happen when revenue declines in a recession, and prevents unanticipated or undesired reductions. The cap can decline though, if inflation is negative or population shrinks.

Smart Cap applies only to state revenue, but we think it is time to examine a potential Smart Cap for the county budget – implemented as a charter change and also on the 2012 ballot.

Local Government Accountability

One bill that has been under the radar for most people is CS/SB224Local Government Accountability. The bill does several different things, but most notably for Palm Beach County, it will require the Sheriff to disclose more of the PBSO budget to public scrutiny, and give the County Commissioners more authority to obtain line item detail for this and previous budget years. Currently, only a Chapter 119 (open records) request has been able to obtain this level of detail on the Sheriff’s budget. Among other things, the bill says:

“The sheriff shall furnish to the board of county commissioners or the budget commission, if there is a budget commission in the county, all relevant and pertinent information concerning expenditures made in previous fiscal years and to the proposed expenditures which the such board or commission deems necessary, including expenditures at the subobject code level in accordance with the uniform accounting system prescribed by the Department of Financial Services.”

This bill was sent to the Governor on May 4.

Additional Homestead Exemption

HJR381, “Additional Homestead Exemption; Property Value Decline; Reduction for Nonhomestead Assessment Increases; Abrogation of Scheduled Repeal”, was sent to the Governor on May 4. This bill places a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot that will have several effects if approved by the voters, including eliminating the unfortunate circumstance that can cause your assessed valuation to increase while your actual market value is decreasing on a homesteaded property. It also caps the increase for non-homestead property to 5%.

Labor and Employment

SB830, “Labor and Employment”, also know as the “Thrasher Bill”, would prohibit state or local governments from deducting from wages, funds for political activity, primarly union dues. It also prohibits labor organizations from collecting dues, assessments, fines or penalties for the purposes of political activity without written authorization from the collectee. This is similar to measures being pursued in other states this year.

This bill was never brought up on the floor before the session ended and therefore died from inaction.

As things change with these bills, we will update this post to reflect the current status.