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County firefighters and paramedics to get 4 percent pay hike and up to 5 more days off

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of November 10, 2022)

The county’s Fire Rescue Division employees will receive a 4 percent pay raise in January and up to five additional days off annually as part of a new, three-year collective bargaining agreement unanimously approved by the County Commission last week.

The contract, ratified by members of the Indian River County Firefighters/Paramedics Association last month, also revamped financial incentives to make them more uniform for paramedics and created an additional rescue sergeant’s position.

County Administrator Jason Brown said the agreement should help the county “recruit and retain” the best people to provide fire rescue services.

“This is a good agreement for everyone involved, a positive step forward for the county and its firefighters and paramedics,” Brown said. “We’ve made a big swing towards making sure we’re competitive in the job market and making this county a place where people want to work and build their careers.”

The two sides tentatively agreed to terms on Sept. 21 and finalized the contract’s language on Oct. 1. The new agreement runs through Sept. 30, 2025.

Both county officials and the fire-rescue workers’ local union president, John O’Connor, praised the way the negotiations were conducted and expressed optimism about future labor talks.

They said there was none of the acrimony that so often marred previous negotiations. In fact, O’Connor thanked the commissioners for addressing the union’s concerns.

“We’ve had multiple discussions over the years about retention issues,” O’Connor said, “and I think this contract reflects that and will provide a foundation for us to build as we grow as an organization.”

County Emergency Services Director David Johnson, who replaced the now-retired Tad Stone in July, described the process as “one of the smoothest negotiations I’ve even seen.”

In addition to the wage increase, Brown said the increase in “Kelly days” – additional days off as part of firefighters’ shifts – were among the union’s priorities.

He said fire-rescue workers in the counties to the south get one Kelly day every three weeks. Prior to the new agreement, firefighters here received only three Kelly days per year. They’ll now receive one Kelly day every six weeks.

“It’s not what they’re getting in St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade,” Brown said, “but it starts a transition to get us closer.”

County Commissioner Joe Earman, a former firefighter and union president who retired six years ago, said it was odd being on the management side of the table, but he was pleased with the outcome of the negotiations.

“The bottom line is: We needed to take care of our firefighters, take care of the retention issue and be competitive in the wage market, no matter what,” Earman said. “And we did that.”

He said the new agreement – and how both parties approached the negotiations – puts the county “on a good path” to building one of the state’s top fire-rescue departments.

“For the first time,” Earman said, “I saw a good working relationship between us and the firefighters.”

According to Brown, the total three-year cost of the new agreement is estimated at $11.3 million.