BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The Kern County Fire Department is losing firefighters to other agencies because of low pay, according to the Kern County Firefighters Association.
A tweet sent out earlier this week announced that two firefighters had resigned to go to other fire departments, and that a total of 41 firefighters were lost for a similar reason since 2014. The union says losing those firefighters can come at the cost of taxpayer dollars.
164 years of collective experience lost, roughly equating to $17.8 million in lost monies due to training and retention that it takes to replace those individuals," said Dave Nelson, the President of the union.
Two more #KernCountyFirefighters have resigned for other Fire Departments bringing the total to 41 lost firefighters, 164 years of lost experience, and a cost of $17.8 Million tax payer dollars. Firefighter Terrio and Firefighter Knight will be missed. pic.twitter.com/oUKiUceToM— Kern County Firefighters 1301 (@KCFF1301) July 30, 2019
Nelson says the biggest reason KCFD is losing experienced firefighters is related to pay. He says Kern firefighters make 25 to 30 percent less than other nearby agencies.
"When you can travel anywhere outside of the valley and seek out opportunities for bettering your family, then you can't blame a guy for making that decision," he said.
But that decision hurts Kern County, Nelson says. When firefighters are lost, it's not only expensive for the county, but the loss of experience can also be costly to people.
"You look at a structure fire that an experienced team can take care of within the first three to four minutes of arriving on scene, and maybe a less experienced team doesn't catch it before it extends into the second room," Nelson said.
Firefighter salaries are determined by negotiations that take place between the fire department and the county. County officials say there's a reason why a raise hasn't been given.
"I think we recognize the firefighters are due for a cost of living increase. What has kept us from that is following through on our four year budget mitigation plan, which started three years ago, we are now in the fourth year of that," said David Couch, Supervisor of Kern County's 4th district, and Chairman of the county's Board of Trustees.
The county adopted that four-year plan to save money after the price of oil dropped significantly. Once the current fiscal year is through, Couch says there will be a much clearer picture of how the county may be able to help the fire department. Nelson says while it's hurting KCFD now, he knows his department isn't being singled out.
"There hasn't really been any county employee that's had a raise in ten plus years," Nelson said.