According to the California State Controller’s most recent data on the California Government Compensation website, the cost of employing a full-time Orange County firefighter in 2014 was $236,155.
Since 2011, the California State Controller’s office has made annual data available about public employees’ regular pay, overtime, other pay, employer pension contribution, employee contribution, healthcare and other costs in order to calculate the total employment cost for every state and local government employee in California.
Ed Ring of the California Policy Center (CPC) performed the labor-intensive analysis this year to calculate the fully burdened cost to employ the average Orange County fireman during 2014, the most recent year available. According to CPC’s examination of firefighter cost:
$90,611 = Regular Pay
$40,977 = Overtime
$20,505 = Other Pay
$150,264 = Total Average Wages
$58,332 = Defined Benefit Employer Cost
$3,434 = Defined Benefit Employee Cost
$ 19,274 = Total Healthcare and Other Benefits
$ 76,816 = Total Benefits
$236,155 = Total Average Pay and Benefits
The average Orange County firefighter earned $43.56 an hour, about twice the $23.06 per hour of an average worker in America, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the average Orange County firefighter’s benefit costs per hour of $36.93 was almost three-and-a-half times the $10.52-per-hour benefit cost for the average American worker.
CPC notes that “veteran firefighters only work two 24-hour shifts per week before earning overtime” at a rate of time-and-a-half. Taking into account vacation, but not paid sick leave, the numbers indicate that OC firefighters, on average, are working almost three 24-hour shifts per week.
Since benefit overhead cost for an average Orange County firefighter is 87 percent of wages compared to 45 percent in the private sector, Ed Ring believes that the County of Orange and its cities routinely schedule firefighters to work one day of overtime at $65.34 an hour, because it is cheaper than hiring a new firefighter at the regular pay rate.
The major reason that the cost of an average Orange County firefighter is so high they can retire when they are 50 years and older and be paid a pension of three percent of their final year wages and overtime, multiplied by the number of years that they worked.
Given that the educational requirement for the average firefighter’s job is usually a two-year community college certificate, it is not unusual for an Orange County firefighter to retire after 30 years of service at about 50 years old and expect to collect 90 percent of his or her final pay and overtime for 29.5 years for an male firefighter and 33.1 years for a female firefighter.
That huge cost explains why the Orange County Employees Retirement System pension plan was only 69 percent funded and had a $5 billion deficit.
CPC notes, “If you don’t study public sector compensation, these numbers may come as a surprise. But they’re much the same throughout California.”