Hattiesburg fire personnel to get testing, pay scale

The Hattiesburg City Council concentrated on fire department personnel during Tuesday afternoon’s meeting at City Hall, hiring a company to provide promotional testing within the department and presenting a new pay scale that creates incentives for educational achievement and seniority.

However, the issue of a pay scale for fire department personnel brought some pushback from City Council members. Ward 2 Councilwoman Deborah Delgado said more work is needed to provide a better pay for firefighters.

“I appreciate all of the work that has gone into this, and I am glad that it was vetted through the fire department,” she said. “But I would suggest that that we know that we need to do better.”

The pay scale presented to the City Council by Chief Administrative Officer Ann Jones is similar in structure to a previously-approved police department pay scale. Each person in the fire department starts with a base salary, which increases by $1,500 with each year of employment and $1,000 with each educational accomplishment, to associates degree/emergency medical technician, then to bachelor’s degree and then to master’s degree.

Base salaries for each position are $30,000 for firefighter, $33,000 for firefighter relief driver, $40,000 for firefighter engineer, $43,000 for firefighter lieutenant, $47,000 for firefighter captain, $60,000 for firefighter battalion chief and $64,000 for firefighter assistant chief. The fire chief earns a salary of $77,000.

Delgado said fire department personnel should earn more than $1,000 for each step in their educational achievements.

“I do understand budgetary limitations, but we are going to have to come up with more creative ways to find funds for all of our employees,” she said. “But particularly this one. It just looks like we just saw a nice chart and we did it the same way. I think we really need to look at that. Higher education is expensive and hard, and people go through these strides for the purpose of making themselves more valuable in the workplace.”

Firefighters will also look elsewhere if they can find better pay, Delgado said.

“I know that our firemen are worth more and I do understand that we don’t have the money,” she said. “But what can we do creatively and that’s not something that you have to answer here, but we’ve got to do something, especially if we want to remain competitive. If they are not invested in this community and people are saying, ‘Come to us because we have a better deal for you,’ I would like for them to stay.”

The pay scale was tabled by the City Council as Jones requested, giving city officials time to discuss it and study the numbers.

The City Council imposed a moratorium on promotions and pay raises in January 2017. Council President Carter Carroll of Ward 3 said during Tuesday’s meeting that the moratorium is expected to be lifted at the March meeting. Fire Department International, Inc., was hired to provide promotional testing for engineer/driver, lieutenant, captain and battalion chief.

Barker said the fire department has gone without promotions for a long time.

“A lot of folks have earned the opportunity to take that next step in their career,” he said. “Quite frankly, there are several vacancies and options in the department. Bringing that company in to do that testing, it just continues our city’s push to use the best practices in how we do things. It brings consistency and standardization to the process.”

Barker said the promotion process had drawn some concern.

“There has been some discussion over the last few years to go to some sort of testing again to keep things consistent,” he said. “I’m glad the Council took the step tonight and I look forward to getting some good officers promoted and really trying to improve the morale in the department.”

However, the actual promotions may take some time depending on the steps involved in the process, Barker said.

“This is one step in filling those positions and the Civil Service Commission has started advertising for those,” he said. “The personnel can start studying for those tests, so it is a several months’ process.”

Despite earlier attempts to standardize promotions, Barker said Tuesday’s effort was the first one of his administration that involves testing.

“We’re still looking through the Civil Service manual, we have three new Civil Service members, so we are trying to start making sure we have an updated manual and that we are conducting meetings,” he said. “We are trying to move toward best practices in every facet of Civil Service, especially in our public safety departments.”