Vacant positions are causing a problem within the Tallahassee Fire Department (TFD).
According to Tallahassee Professional Firefighters (TPF) President Joe Davis, the inability to fill positions is forcing current firefighters to stay past the end of their 24-hour shifts.
“We’ve run into cases where firefighters are being told at the end of their shift, ‘You’re not allowed to go home,’” Davis explains.
The root issue of vacant positions within the TFD lies with what Davis believes is an unlivable wage. When speaking about who’s affected the hardest, Davis says it’s firefighters and engineers. Davis explained that many firefighters and engineers can not solely rely on their job to bring in money.
“It’s around ninety percent of them [firefighters] that have a second job,” he states.
Davis says that even a portion of officers within the TFD are currently working second jobs to support themselves and their families. Many decide to work side hustles on their two days off if given the opportunity, even if they are exhausted from their shifts.
The TPF union has been negotiating with representatives from the city over increases in starting pay and salary for Tallahassee firefighters for the past 11 weeks. According to Davis, the goal of these negotiations in 2023 is to reach a one-year deal before the budget is finalized in October.
Next year, the two parties will return to the table to negotiate a three-year contract.
Davis says while the city wants to push sizable salary increases into next year’s negotiations while primarily focusing on pension contribution rates, the union wants to discuss both, making the objectives fundamentally different.
The current starting pay for firefighters in Tallahassee, according to Talgov.com, is around $44,000 a year. When comparing that salary with “competing” departments in the same region, Davis found the median starting salary was around $9,000 higher.
Davis says the weekly negotiations involve one party handing a proposal to the other party. The receiving party will review the proposal before arriving at the next session with questions about the proposal and possibly a counterproposal.
Right now, Davis says, there are six articles in dispute. Through 11 sessions, minimal progress has been made.
“We [the union] haven’t signed off on any of them [the articles] so far,” he admits.
Davis hoped some articles from the city’s proposal the previous Wednesday could’ve been approved. Then, discussions over salaries could commence.
Earlier in his career, Davis was successful in an arbitration representing his previous department against the state involving the removal of a lieutenant rank. Davis says that experience gave him a deeper appreciation for the work he and his colleagues perform as firefighters, and he feels honored that he can represent them.
Despite the uncertainty regarding negotiations, Davis remains optimistic that a deal will be reached by next month’s deadline.
“I think that the city understands that we have to be competitive,” Davis says.
Davis, who also works as a TFD firefighter, also has nothing but praise for his colleagues, their work ethic, and their commitment to service.
“The men and women that work for the Tallahassee Fire Department are great people,” he lamented. “They’re wonderful people to be around.”
Davis also ensured the Tallahassee community that he and fellow firefighters for the TFD would provide the public with the best service. Due to a law passed by firefighters, a strike isn’t on the horizon.
“The people of Tallahassee are going to have fire service no matter what,” Davis affirms.
The City of Tallahassee and the Tallahassee Professional Firefighters will meet for the 12th time at 10 a.m. on Wednesday at the Public Safety Complex. The public is welcome to view negotiations in public.