Brevard County firefighters fight for pay raise despite tax cuts

In addition to putting out fires, Brevard County Fire Rescue workers are also fighting for higher pay, hoping entry-level firefighters will earn more than fast-food workers when the next union contract is signed.

Firefighters dressed in bright yellow and waving American flags showed up at the Viera Government Center Tuesday to pressure the County Commission to raise their pay. Signs reading “Starbucks pay is higher than BCFR pay” cast a stark light on the situation as firefighters packed the government center chamber to demand competitive pay in the future.

More: Brevard firefighters seek new contract and more competitive pay as employee turnover remains a problem

The current union contract expires on September 30.

County commissioners said county charter restrictions on property tax increases prevented them from raising firefighters’ salaries.

Commissioners did not vote on the matter Tuesday, but they did listen to concerns from firefighters who were hoping for a bigger piece of the pie.

Joshua Madsen, a 23-year BCFR veteran and Indian Harbor Beach resident, said the department’s current pay conditions are unsustainable and that changes are needed. “I’d like to say I thought things would get better … but they didn’t,” Madsen said. Madsen noted that commissioners may consider it too politically risky to vote to exceed the spending cap to give firefighters raises.

Commissioners said it will take a lot of political will to get firefighters the raises they want. A voter-approved cap in the county charter limits annual percentage increases in the amount of money that can be raised from property taxes. It will take support from four of the five commissioners to raise taxes enough to raise pay.

Firefighters like Madsen believe this needs to be done regardless of the political situation.

“We take risks every day. Every call is what we do. We take risks. We can’t say if we’re going to come home or not,” he added. “We’re asking you to take risks,” Madsen said. “I’m not asking for wealth. I’m asking for a fair wage so I can pay my bills.”

Susan Edison, the mother of a Brevard County Fire Rescue paramedic, described what her daughter deals with every day for $15 an hour: gunshot victims, motorcycle accident victims and saving the lives of newborns. “There should be some return for all the risks they take. You can find money to take care of the people who take care of you, for minimum wage,” Edison said.

Tyler Vazquez is a Brevard County and North Brevard Watchdog reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Vazquez at 321-480-0854 or Email: [email protected].