CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF)- Vice President of the Chattanooga Fire Association Keith Lyles said Mayor Tim Kelly received the union’s support because he promised to have a working relationship with the city’s first responders. Through that working relationship, Lyles hopes that recruitment, retention, and salary improve.
The average starting salary for a Chattanooga Firefighter is 33 thousand.
“That’s not competitive with surrounding areas” said Lyles. “We’re 18 thousand a year below Memphis and 13 thousand dollars a year below Nashville and we’re losing quite a few firefighters to cities like that.”
In addition to salary, retirement plays a major role with recruiting and keeping first responders on staff.
Firefighters must work a minimum 25 years or more to retire.
Their current salaries have been frozen by the Berke administration due to the covid pandemic, according to the Chattanooga Firefighter Association.
“That’s becoming a challenge for our members who are retiring right now” said Lyles. “That is not just a temporary freeze for them. That’s a lifelong freeze that’s going to effect their pension going forward for the rest of their lives.”
The firefighters union must sit down the Mayor Kelly’s administration and negotiate a proposal to present to city council for approval.
“In all of our levels of government the morale is very low” said Councilman Anthony Byrd. “Especially our fire department.”
Councilman Byrd supports increasing wages.
Byrd says the city’s finances needs to be re-examined but raising taxes would be the last resort.
“Unfortunately if you have areas that are too top heavy, then you look at readjusting those but at the forefront we have to make sure people don’t lose their jobs” said Byrd.
Mayor Kelly’s Chief of Staff Brent Goldberg said the administration will meet with firefighters on May 3rd. Goldberg also said in a statement ” We look forward to working with firefighters to develop a a fair pay plan that can be practically implemented.