SAN RAMON (KPIX 5) — Despite ever-tightening budgets, hefty paydays are actually becoming the norm for a lot of Bay Area firefighters.

But one East Bay fire department says paying out a lot of overtime is actually saving taxpayers money.

In 2015, firefighters in San Ramon were making as much as $400,000 a year in total compensation.

A hard days work as a firefighter in San Ramon could be adding up to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

According to data collected by the watchdog group, Transparent California, more than half of the San Ramon Valley Fire District full-time employees make more than $300,000 a year.

Jake Weir with the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association said, “Does it make sense that a battalion chief in San Ramon should earn $300,000…when our governor only earns $180,000…and our President only earns $400,000.”

But San Ramon Valley Fire Chief Paige Meyer says the $300,000 figure doesn’t tell the whole story.

It includes pension and benefits, so in reality, he says, firefighters take home about half of their total compensation.

“So if someone makes $1 we ending up spending .90 cents for their pension and we also have the costs of healthcare,” Meyer said.

So that’s why he says it can be cheaper to pay a firefighter overtime, rather than hire someone new — with an extra set of benefits costs.

“Saving can be upwards of 20 to 30 percent,” Meyer said.

Firefighters are guaranteed about 70 percent of their income after retirement in their 50s and in San Ramon, firefighters contribute close to 25 percent of their income to their pension.

Weir believes the system won’t work in the long run.

“It’s unreasonable, it’s unaffordable and most importantly from a taxpayer’s perspective and from the perspective of the firefighters: it’s unsustainable,” maintains Weir.

But Chief Meyer says San Ramon is an example of a fire district doing things right. They are in the black.

“We have a very sustainable system. We’re paying all of our unfunded liabilities. We’re actually one of the only agencies that I know of in the United States that pays extra toward our unfunded liabilities in retired, medical, and pension costs,” Meyer said.

Meyer also says a starting firefighter in San Ramon would make about $90,000 in salary alone.

Comments (17)
  1. So is the $300k-$400k including the base salary plus OT plus City’s portion of FICA/SocSec/Pension/ and healthcare? I’d be more interested in seeing a number that easier to identify with. What is the top line on the employee’s W-2? And, what is the City paying out for pensions (not including employee contribution) on average per each retired firefighter and for how long? The numbers sound crazy but creative accounting by the liberal media can make anything sound terrible. I’ll bet healthcare for older fire fighters is crazy.
    And I want to know how much the Governor makes using the SAME calculation- what’s the Governor get for a pension, whats the tax-payer contribution, add in his healthcare benefits etc. I’ll bet the Governor gets way more than $180k if you apply the same accounting method!

  2. Karen Lyle says:

    Where has everyone been.
    why do you think everyone wants to be a fire fighter? Angels stadium has open calls for firefighters and the whole stadium fills up. Why do you always see your firefighters at the stores shopping. They spend most of their time sleeping eating and cleaning . plus retiring with 70 to 80 percent of pay. Also free healthcare for life.


    1. Mike King says:

      Nice comment. Ignorant much? If you ever get to Colorado, please contact me. If you have the guts, you can do a ride along for 24 hours. We’ll see how much you sleep

    2. Why So says:

      … and they all have Dalmatians, eat chili, and play cards all day.

  3. Joe Moluks says:

    Dangerous work on the mean streets of San Ramon… See Joe Gliniewicz……

  4. We know it’s a scam when it’s cheaper to pay employees 1.5x than to hire a new employee.

    Because lifetime non-working Defined Benefits are basically a Ponzi scheme. It’s why cities are broke and taxes, rates, fees, tolls go up – while services, improvement, and infrastructure gets worse.

    See for yourself why your city is broke and broken:

  5. San Patn says:

    Apparently the folks in sr have so much money they can afford to be stupid. Dirty union democrats, going to have to pay for it one day.

  6. Try being one for 24 hours. They earn every bit of it.

  7. Why So says:

    Age old game. a city doesn’t hire, fewer employees work more hours. The media blames the employees earning too much. The city hires more people the media blames the employees for costing too much.

    The new twist here is they are now tying the outcry to benefits. It’s subtle but it’s no accident. Jack Weir and his friends have been sharpening their teeth on websites and blogs most here don’t read, getting ready for 2018 when the GASB accounting standards change. When those go into effect your average public employee is going to look absurdly expensive nearly overnight. The average public will never understand how bogus the formula is when they join the rallying cry to take their retirement and/or privatize police and fire. Firefighters will be left with a 401k, no social security, meaningless health care subsidy and 15 years into your retirement when they’ve bankrupted CALPERS from the supply side the employees will be the ones to blame. You’ll start to hear the “crowd out” term when they go to blame the infrastructure woes on public employee pensions.

    When people say “Making America Great Again.” They never meant great for everyone.

    I know you can bring logic and reason to an emotional argument but I just cant help myself.
    Battalion Chief is not a firefighter they are command level officers and most serve at the pleasure of their fire chief. If the chief did not like the practice he need only say the word to stop it.

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