San Diego Fire-Rescue Department concerned over attrition rates

Cites benefits and compensation changes to exodus

SAN DIEGO - There's growing concern about a possible mass exodus from the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department after a large number of firefighters left last fiscal year.

But one local tax fighter says what's at issue is not what it seems. 

There are nearly 800 firefighters with SDFRD and they are there to help during emergencies.

But according to the department, in 2012, 48 firefighters retired, resigned or were terminated.  To some, that number is too high.   

“Many of these losses to the department are driven in changes in benefits and compensation,” said Javier Mainar, chief of the SDFRD, during a recent Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee Meeting at City Hall. 

The city now offers 401k plans for new hires, instead of a pension, which may be sending them elsewhere.

“We are hearing it not only from folks who are turning us down for job offers, but also firefighters who are leaving and telling us telling us they are going to another agency," said Mainar.

According to recent data, 40 percent of active city firefighters net six figure salaries or more, when overtime is factored into total compensation.

“Working existing firefighters overtime is a less costly option than hiring additional firefighters to back-fill anticipated vacancies,” he said.

“The chief is absolutely right," said Richard Rider, chairman of San Diego Tax Fighters. "Overtime makes more sense given the alternative of what we have today. But it begs the questions, why are we paying  60 percent of salary in benefits. For what purpose?"

Rider said what the chief really wants is more money for city firefighters.

“This is a pitch to try to sell pay increases trying to get a bigger pension -- trying to get more money out of the citizens of San Diego," said Rider. "It is not needed."

10News tried to talk with Mainar Thursday about salaries and what needs to be done to change attrition rates, but we were not able to get the San Diego City Mayor's office to approve the interview.

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