The two new members of the Pasco County Commission had barely warmed up their seats on the board before hearing about the increasing number of the county’s firefighters that are resigning.
“In the year 2022 alone, we’ve had 49 resignations, and that number will undoubtedly grow before the end of the year,” Dixon Phillips, the District 3 representative of IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters) Local 4420, told the board during the public comment portion of the Dec. 6 meeting.
“You must ask yourselves: Why are firefighters leaving? The answer to that is simple. Quality of life.
“Pasco’s firefighters work 208 hours more per year than almost all of our neighboring fire departments.
“If you march that number out over a 30-year career, that means a firefighter that works in Hillsborough County will work on a truck 2.3 years less than a firefighter that works on a truck in Pasco,” Phillips added.
Pay is a concern, too, he said.
“Starting in April 2023, that same firefighter, on average, will be paid 20% more than firefighters in Pasco,” Phillips said.
He also listed a number of other issues.
“Pasco County firefighters have not had a health screening or physical since 2018, even though the bargaining agreement stated that physicals were to begin in 2021.
“Pasco County firefighters have not had a physical agility test since 2016.
“This county denies job-related cancer claims, but does nothing to ensure that our firefighters are healthy and in good physical condition.
“We scratch our head and wonder why we lose 20% of our new hire class before they even step in the door.
“How are we supposed to retain or recruit, when the No. 1 international publication in our field, Firehouse Magazine, writes a story about Pasco County commissioners approving up to $85,000 (in legal fees) to fight a state-mandated $25,000 firefighter-related cancer claim?
“Would you work for a business that did that to their employees?” he asked county board members.
The resignations of firefighters comes at a time when the county’s emergency response calls are on the rise, Phillips said.
“According to the state fire marshal’s office, in 2021, out of all the fire departments in the state of Florida, Pasco County Fire Rescue ran the third most EMS calls in the state.
“This is no surprise because Pasco County Fire Rescue saw a 16% increase in total call volume that year, and those numbers continue to rise in 2022.
“With that in mind, our local (Local 4420) anxiously awaits the opening of Fire Rescue Station 9, which is scheduled later this month.
“However, Station 17, which broke ground on June 10, 2021, is not projected to be completed, until the earliest, August 2023.
“We need stations to be built faster.
“Trucks like rescue 223 and 226, to be put on the road faster,” he said.
Phillips’ appearance before the board is just the latest in a series of such appearances by representatives for the county’s fire/rescue crews, who have experienced a sizable increase in emergency response calls, as a result of the county’s rapid growth.
Fire/Rescue personnel have urged the county board to increase resources to enable them to trim emergency response times.
The county’s voters have approved bonds to pay for new fire stations to be built, and the county board has approved budget increases for Fire/Rescue equipment and personnel. But there has been a lag time between those approvals and the availability of additional resources for emergency responders.
Published December 14, 2022