Lower wages means high turnover for firefighters - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Lower wages means high turnover for firefighters

In the last two years, the department lost nearly a third of its firefighters, and often to better paying jobs. In the last two years, the department lost nearly a third of its firefighters, and often to better paying jobs.
Chief James Carswell said he is pleased to have this new class. Chief James Carswell said he is pleased to have this new class.
Fire officials worry the cost of too many inexperienced firefighters could be more than just money to the community. Fire officials worry the cost of too many inexperienced firefighters could be more than just money to the community.
ALBANY, GA (WALB) -

Albany Fire Department officials are concerned by high turnover.

In the last two years, the department lost nearly a third of its firefighters, and often to better paying jobs.

Fire officials say there is no substitute for experience when lives are on the line, so they are concerned so many firefighters are leaving.

Soon to be 21-year-old Caleb Cox is an Albany Firefighter, just like his father.

"My Dad [has been] here since I was two years old, that's always been something in me to look up to and try to be like him. Help out as well as I can."

One of the other 23 newly-hired Albany Firefighters is Vanessa Cutliff, whose uncle is an Albany firefighter.

"There is nothing more honorable than being a firefighter," Cutliff said.

Chief James Carswell is pleased to have this new class.

"It's actually one of the largest we've ever had," he said.

But he is concerned because they needed to hire so many firefighters. In the last two years, the fire department has replaced one third of its employees.

And training so many new hires is costly.

"We hire employees thinking they are going to work here 30 years and retire," Carswell said. "So we put a lot of cost in them up front, to get them experienced, to get them trained. And then when they leave, obviously that's money lost."

Albany Firefighters have had only one cost of living raise in the last 8 years, and many have decided to move on.

"It's a complex issue that the city is addressing through a pay study right now," Carswell said. "So hopefully in the next few months we'll see some kind of improvement in the overall retention for the city staff."

Many people make career changes every six years. Albany Fire Officials say they concentrated on trying to hire people who will stay.

"I plan on making a career out of this," said Cox.

"This is home. This is home." Cutliff said. "And hopefully I will be an exception."

Fire officials worry the cost of too many inexperienced firefighters could be more than just money to the community.

The starting pay for Albany firefighter trainees is just over $25,000. Officials say the lack of raises after that is more of a problem, causing many firefighters to move on.

Copyright 2015 WALB. All rights reserved.

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