Davis Firefighters Make Highest Salary in Region


In 2013, Davis firefighters made $132,576 in pay which included overtime, bonuses, and cashouts. That figure, according to a graphic posted in the Sacramento Bee this weekend, was the highest in the region ‒ outstripping cities like El Dorado Hills, Folsom, Sacramento and Roseville.

However, the Davis figure, while high for the region, was only slightly above the state average of $125,000. According to the Bee, about 215 firefighters made $124,000 statewide while 140 made $152,000 ‒ and the graphic goes up as high as $281,000 (see Sacramento Bee graphic).

This follows a persistent trend. Back in April of 2013, data received from the city of Davis, in a comparison of Davis to ten other regional communities plus UC Davis, found that the city of Davis firefighters received, both in salary and total compensation, more than all but two other communities (Fairfield and Vacaville), while their police counterparts received less than both in average and median income and total compensation. Only Sacramento and West Sacramento police received less among the cities.

This new analysis takes into account bonuses and cashouts, as well as overtime.

The firefighters in 2013 were subject to a number of critical reforms passed by the city. The city would culminate 2013 by the council unanimously implementing the last, best and final offer on the Davis firefighters.

However, the biggest change in the new contract was retiree health benefits, which would not be factored into the salary analysis above. The city reduced that benefit from $1800 per month down to the basic Medicare rate, which is closer to $800 per month.

The imposition of the contract followed a year of reforms by the city, including the relatively non-controversial boundary drop which allows UC Davis firefighters to be first responders for city of Davis calls for service if they are closest to the scene.

However, two of the reforms were were huge controversies and took months to implement. First, by a 3-2 vote, the city reduced the number of firefighters on a shift from 12 to 11 and redistributed the personnel to make the firefighters’ force more mobile.

Second, and even more controversial, was shared management. Ultimately, the same 3-2 vote prevailed in December, but not before public officials Senator Lois Wolk, Assemblymember Mariko Yamada, Supervisors Don Saylor and Jim Provenza, and former Supervisor Helen Thomson wrote a letter to the Davis City Council opposing the agreement.

The letter argued, “We believe that governance of public safety is and must remain a core function of the elected City Council of Davis. Community oversight and accountability is an important element of municipal services.”

They wrote, “We urge the Davis City Council to take another look at the serious long-range consequences of this proposal before contracting out any of these core municipal functions. There is a key difference between sharing or coordinating services and merging governance with the constitutionally separate and unelected Regents and Chancellor.”

Recently, data from the fire chief shows that the reforms have greatly reduced the number of times where firefighters move from a peripheral station to cover the central fire station.

“Why is this important?” the chief asks. “Simply put, if a fire company is out of district (out of position), response times increase to that response area.”

When the city reduced the number of firefighters on an engine from 4 to 3, it decoupled the rescue apparatus at Rescue 31 from the fire engine, allowing each to respond independently as needed. The logic there was to reduce the number of times a fire engine from one of the peripheral stations had to move up to the central station to cover for Station 31.

The data shows that the number of move ups dropped after the reforms to almost none.


As the chief wrote in his September report, “You can clearly see the impact of Engine 34’s role now that the boundary has been dropped, and the impact of the new move and cover strategy, in the amount of times that 32 and 33 now stay in their districts ready to provide service to those portions of the community.”

However, pay has remained a huge sticking point. In 2012, when UC Davis ended attempts to outright merge the departments, the chief wrote to then-Davis City Manager Steve Pinkerton, “The culture of the rank and file firefighters is not rife for a full merger at this time. I don’t think you could get both labor groups to agree.”

“It would be a huge financial burden on the university to do a full merger at this point,” he said.

Former Vice Chancellor John Meyer added, “I don’t disagree by any means that that would be a best outcome. But I don’t think it can happen in one step. Without some of these interim steps, I don’t think the trust is built.”

In January of 2012, John Meyer “paused” the fire merger process, citing what he called a “significant compensation disparity” as a culprit.

“I am deeply concerned about the significant compensation disparity highlighted in the Citygate report,” he wrote.  “The report suggests that UC Davis will increase its compensation in support of consolidation efforts. I believe such action would not be sustainable by UC Davis and should not be assumed in future planning.”

The current Bee article notes the problems that Sacramento fire has had.

They write, “Metro Fire has long been known as one of the best-paying fire departments in the state. Like other departments, it ran into budget troubles during the recession and needed to reduce costs.”

The Bee notes, “Last year, community complaints about Metro Fire’s personnel costs and an implied legal threat led Chief Kurt Henke to decide against asking property owners for a $27.50 annual assessment to reopen some fire stations.”

In January, the Bee editorial board wrote “Is This Fire Contract the Best City Can Do?” In it they noted that, while firefighting is dangerous work, “their pay – like salaries for other city workers – has to be viewed in terms of what taxpayers can afford.”

Sacramento City Manager John Shirey “won’t dare call the new contract with Sacramento firefighters a ‘good deal.’ Instead, he says the pact up for City Council approval Tuesday night could be a ‘fair deal’ – if the firefighters union helps find savings to offset some of the contract’s cost, mostly a cumulative 12 percent pay hike by December 2016. “

Moreover, the Bee notes, it is “even more revealing” that the city manager “let on that council members spent more time on this contract – all behind closed doors – than any other during his three-plus years on the job.”

Writes the Bee, “That’s no coincidence: The firefighters union is a powerful and generous player in city politics.”

The Bee noted that whatever savings a new contract would generate “will be far outweighed by salary increases – 5 percent retroactive to Dec. 27, 4 percent in December 2015 and 3 percent in December 2016. Higher ranks would get slightly less. The pay hikes, on top of a 5 percent raise in December 2012, will cost the city nearly $25 million over the four-year contract.”

As we noted at the time, Davis residents should pay close attention to what just happened in Sacramento.  The city is not suddenly flush in money.  They just passed a half-cent voter approved sales tax, they have a projected general fund deficit, and the Sacramento City Council bowed down to the public safety unions.

The handwriting is on the wall.  We will see if our council can do better than Sacramento’s.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Barack Palin

    The handwriting is on the wall.  We will see if our council can do better than Sacramento’s.

    They’re already the highest paid in the region so our council had better not give in at all.  NO RAISES

    If our council is planning on bending than the community should be all over them letting them know that won’t be accepted.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      They don’t earn minimum wage, I think they can live on $132,000 per year and retire at 50 / 52 to play golf, or start their second career.

      Why extend them a raise? They don’t have to fight high-rise fires, they don’t have to answer calls in dangerous projects, and it seems generally like a pretty low stress job as far as fire fighrters go. This isn’t Oakland or San Francisco.

      With the city facing numerous other large financial obligations, I don’t see why one small group should make out like bandits. If the wages aren’t enough, they can always work in Vallejo or Fresno.

      What’s $132,000 per year and job stability, top 5% of wages? Top 6%? All with a high school degree? I’m not being mean, but they didn’t go to 10 years of college and then 3 years as an intern / resident and have $500,000 in student loans.

      1. Barack Palin

        Good points TBD.  If the council caves to them, which by some of the early signs seems like a good possibility, I’m sure there will be many in town advocating against any new taxes because they’ll feel their tax money is just being funneled to our already overpaid firefighters.


  2. Tia Will


    How much should firefighters in the City of Davis make ? It seems to me that unless one can answer this question and provide justification for the number proposed, then it is solely a matter of personal preference and certainly not an imperative for the city council to decide according to that preference.

    1. David Greenwald

      Okay, but I guess my question is why should Davis Firefighters be making more over other departments that have far higher calls for service? And if you want to argue cost of living issues, fine, but we would then need to revise what we pay the rest of our employees who overall tend to be on the lower side of compensation.

  3. Tia Will


    My point is not to argue on any specific point. I honestly do not know how firefighter, or any other public employee compensation should be set ? Like most everything else in life, I suspect it is multifactorial. There are certainly local concerns, such as what type of calls they have to respond to, what educational demands they have, how much time they have to work based on local staffing issues, what other duties they are expected to take on besides firefighting as well as what expenditures they have related to the location of their job and where they live. There may also be regional or state issues of which I am unaware.

    My point is to question the reasoning used by those who say that there should be no raises and that the city council and the citizens as a whole should be in complete unanimity on this issue. BP may be right, or may be wrong…..how would we know or be able to form an opinion without the proposed correct amount on which the assertion is based ?

  4. zaqzaq


    The more appropriate question is how much can the city afford to pay for the fire department?  There are many unfunded or underfunded needs in this city that need revenue sources.   The fire fighters union has not been a willing player in finding cost reductions.  I seem to recall them fighting many of the cost saving reforms mentioned in this article.

    1. Matt Williams

      zaqzaq, I believe it goes much further than that. Most of the other unions in Davis (all of whose members are paid less per hour than the firefighter members) willingly accepted a percentage decrease in their pay that the firefighters did not willingly accept. In effect the firefighters were saying to the other City employees, “We are better than you are. We should be paid more than you are. We should not have to accept the same reductions that you should have to accept.”

  5. Tia Will


    I agree. And I feel that both questions, yours and mine are appropriate for consideration. I would also like to hear from those asserting that “we cannot” afford more taxes, just what they feel is the correct amount of taxation and on what they are basing that assertion. I suspect that the truth is that there are those of us ( such as myself) who could afford to pay more, and some who can truly not afford to pay more, and a larger number who simply don’t want to pay more. On both sides of the public pay issue, what I believe is needed is less self interest, and more discussion of actual numbers so that we can at least know on what basis the assertions are being made.

    1. Don Shor

      I suspect that the truth is that there are those of us ( such as myself) who could afford to pay more, and some who can truly not afford to pay more,

      But there is no way to structure a local tax based on ability to pay, as far as I know.

      1. Tia Will


        But there is no way to structure a local tax based on ability to pay, as far as I know.”

        Then perhaps that should be a starting point that could be considered for making a practical change in how we structure taxation.

    2. hpierce

      Tia… instead of a tax, you could always just make a donation.  As could any others that feel you don’t contribute enough of your resources to the community.

      1. Tia Will


        instead of a tax, you could always just make a donation.”

        I really do not find this kind of response thoughtful, considerate or of any relevance or value.

        First, how would you know whether I have or haven’t made independent contributions to the firefighters ?

        Secondly, I could say exactly the same to those who want a military presence for anything other than direct defense. But I don’t. Because although I consider that most of the wars that we have been in during my lifetime have been immoral, I realize that to have the standard of living that we have in this country necessitates us all paying into the system that we label taxes. I doubt there is anyone who posts here who believes that any other individual who posts here is rich enough for their single contribution, no matter how generous would make a significant difference. What can make a difference is all of us choosing what priorities we are willing to pay for and then paying accordingly.

        1. Barack Palin

          That’s what we’re doing here.  We feel that we’re way overpaying our firefighters and want to get their pay in line with the rest of the region.  The last thing our city needs is to give the firefighters another raise.

        2. hpierce

          Ok… missed your point Tia.  I took your statement “… I suspect that the truth is that there are those of us ( such as myself) who could afford to pay more”, to mean you were willing to pay more, and were looking for a mechanism to do so.  Now I’m taking your statement to mean you will pay more IF society forces everyone doing as well as you perceive you are, pay more.  Missed that.  Apologies.

  6. PhilColeman

    To Tia’s point, let’s expand it: What should anybody make in compensation?

    We are a free-market capitalistic society and economy. If I have the best cross-over dribble in the country, I can demand millions, and get it. If I’m an American based missionary in West Africa exposed to some of the greatest job hazards imaginable, I get squat! God rewards me. So, let’s just forget, “should get,” it’s a false trail to equity and fairness.

    The more relevant and useful guide to this topic is what some folks often say, “If you can get it, you deserve it.” Now that is a free-based economy and it is applicable to the current circumstance where Davis Firefighters enjoy the City’s largest salary and compensation package. They got it and they sure feel that they deserve it.

    We know how the Davis firefighters got there, no point if plowing that field again. Do they deserve to be there, or continue to be there? That is both a political and economic question that city leaders decide. If a public service provider gives a particularly high level of service; requiring extraordinary skills, education, and experience; qualified replacement candidates are rare or absent; or the tasks performed are especially physically and emotionally hazardous, then compensation levels should reflect these job demands and requirements.

    I’ve never seen anything that reflects the specific hourly workload of the Davis Firefighters. The monthly reports by the Fire Chief (which I really miss seeing here in the past few months) shows bar graphs depicting unit workloads, and the named tasks are consolidated and ambiguous. We’d all be more favorably supporting our Davis Firefighters when we are shown they work very hard and utilize unique skills to make this a better community. In other words, detail a typical work day for a typical firefighter. Comparison with lesser-paint city workers would be illuminating as well.

    The danger element with fire fighter duties are cited repeatedly, including the Bee article that prompted this column. Fire fighting is perceived as being very dangerous, but the argument is never quantified. How hazardous, exactly, is this job and how does it compare to other city job classifications that are inherently dangerous but for which less pay is given?

    State and Federal Labor injury statistics have been compiled for many decades for every job category. Any City Councilperson can ask for such data specific to Davis firefighters. Get staff working on it. Operating on the premise offered by the Fire Fighter Union that our gallant overworked firefighters deserve every dime they get, and perhaps more, let’s  validate that and then open the City pocketbook with the full support of an appreciative Davis citizenry.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      Good points. There is some danger, but far less in a sleepy college town. No high rises, no projects, few gangs. Seven Eleven probably has a higher mortality rate.

      I really also don’t understand why we pay people to retire at 50, they could work as a manager, inspector, trainer, or work at Home Depot until they are 65. This is why we have a massive public debt as everyone kicks the can down the road to our children and grand children.



  7. hpierce

    If folk are interested in seeing the current MOU’s,   http://administrative-services.cityofdavis.org/human-resources-and-risk-management/memorandums-of-understanding-mous

    DCEA’s and Fire’s imposed contracts appear to expire June 30, 2015.  Unclear.

    MOU for Individual Sworn Police Managers expires June 30, 2015

    MOUs for general police (DPOA), many miscellaneous  employees (PASEA), General Individual Managers, expire December 31, 2015

    MOU’s for Individual Department Heads and City Manager are not provided on the cited site.

  8. Anon

    I’ll come at this from a slightly different angle.  What the City Council has to think long and hard about  is if they give the firefighters a raise, how likely is it that citizens will agree to a parcel tax to fix roads and infrastructure; renew or increas a school parcel tax; renew or increase a parks parcel tax, etc.  The more citizens perceive the City Council giving largesse that is unjustified in the minds of the citizenry, the more the backlash against future taxes of any kind.  If the new innovation parks do end up getting built, generating huge tax revenue, at that time it might be more reasonable for firefighters to ask for a raise, because the city can afford it.  But as it stands now, the city cannot even afford to fix its potholes in the roads, let alone do basic maintenance on its facilities, e.g. pool leaks.

    1. hpierce

      Anon… does your 9:27 comment apply to FF’s only, or all City employees?  If the latter, using a complementary angle towards yours, DJUSD “has to think long and hard about  is if they give the” teachers, administrators, and/or other staff “ a raise, how likely is it that citizens will agree to a parcel tax to fix roads and infrastructure; renew or increase a school parcel tax; renew or increase a parks parcel tax, etc.”

      1. Davis Progressive

        i think the public would be more amenable to raising the salaries of teachers than firefighters.  teachers are perceived to get relatively little whereas firefighters are pulling in six figure salaries.  in a community like davis, i think you can raise salaries for teachers and pass a parcel tax.

        1. hpierce

          You appear to read things only to the extent it matches your prejudices.  Anon did not (and clarified) speak only as to FF’s, but ALL City employees.  There are quite a few DJUSD Administrators etc. who are well into the 6-figures.  And work far fewer hours than FF’s.

          “teachers are perceived to get relatively little…”  yes… a good PR network, and backing from one of the most powerful union organizations in the State (with the nice catch-phrase, “it’s for the kids”) assists greatly with that perception.

        2. Davis Progressive

          which is interesting because the firefighters had a good pr network and backing from one of the most powerful unions in the state which led the firefighters salaries to go from about 40,000 a year in 2000 to where it is now.  nothing that has happened with teachers is comparable.  so i think you have this point wrong.

        3. wdf1

          hpierce:  There are quite a few DJUSD Administrators etc. who are well into the 6-figures.  And work far fewer hours than FF’s.

          …and the assertion that DJUSD admins “work far fewer hours than FF’s” is based on what?

          hpierce:  “teachers are perceived to get relatively little…”  yes… a good PR network, and backing from one of the most powerful union organizations in the State (with the nice catch-phrase, “it’s for the kids”) assists greatly with that perception.

          It is for the kids.  Smirk if you want.  You can grow a future economy if you invest in quality education, based on what those future adults will do and become (contribute to society, add value to the economy, have greater taxable earning power) and won’t do (less likely to be a burden to the corrections system and adult social services) because of it.

          I’ve made this comment before:  If earlier in my life I had known what firefighters could earn, I probably would have given serious thought to becoming one.  K-12 teachers, IMO, don’t have attractive salaries.

          My mom was a 3rd grade teacher.  I saw what hours she put in.  It was easily more than 60 hours/week.

        4. hpierce

          wdf.. for the current teaching staff, how does a salary increase, beyond the cost of inflation, improve educational outcomes?  Has the salaries/benefits offered by the district resulted in recruiting less capable teachers?  If yes, and we pass additional taxes to go to salaries/compensation, what mechanism will be used to remove those less capable teachers, and replace them with more capable teachers?

        5. wdf1

          hpierce:  for the current teaching staff, how does a salary increase, beyond the cost of inflation, improve educational outcomes?

          I am unaware that any salary increases have occurred recently, beyond the cost of inflation.

          What do you want to define as educational outcomes?  Threshold scores on standardized tests?

          What is the hpierce definition of a capable teacher?

        6. Davis Progressive

          hpierce: perhaps you can enlighten us – you have raised the issue a number of times when the firefighter issue gets raised – can i ask why you feel so strongly about teacher salaries?

        7. wdf1

          hpierce: If yes, and we pass additional taxes to go to salaries/compensation, what mechanism will be used to remove those less capable teachers, and replace them with more capable teachers?

          It seems that you have punted from this conversation, but your previous comment is probably the wrong question to be asking at this time. If a better effort had been made to retain teachers in the past recession, we might not be entering a period in which it might be necessary to raise salaries in order to attract new teachers.

          NPR Education blog, 3/3/2015:  Where Have All The Teachers Gone?

          Several big states have seen alarming drops in enrollment at teacher training programs. The numbers are grim among some of the nation’s largest producers of new teachers: In California, enrollment is down 53 percent over the past five years. It’s down sharply in New York and Texas as well.


          Why have the numbers fallen so far, so fast?

          McDiarmid points to the strengthening U.S. economy and the erosion of teaching’s image as a stable career. There’s a growing sense, he says, that K-12 teachers simply have less control over their professional lives in an increasingly bitter, politicized environment.

          The list of potential headaches for new teachers is long, starting with the ongoing, ideological fisticuffs over the Common Core State Standards, high-stakes testing and efforts to link test results to teacher evaluations. Throw in the erosion of tenure protections and a variety of recession-induced budget cuts, and you’ve got the makings of a crisis.

          The job also has a PR problem, McDiarmid says, with teachers too often turned into scapegoats by politicians, policymakers, foundations and the media.

  9. Frankly

    Reading a book: “Government Against Itself: Public Union Power and Its Consequence.”

    Absolutely all state and local government fiscal problems are on a road that leads back to the existence of public sector labor unions.

    Democrats are caught in a growing fiscal policy conundrum that is largely self-inflicted.  They see labor unions in general as contributing to their hold on political power and have basically either ignored or defended the rise in obscene pay and benefits.  Meanwhile, Democrats, especially liberal Democrats, are driven toward public solutions for social progress.  But social programs are ending up on the chopping block in order to balance budgets because of the legal lock on the obscene pay and benefits committed in previous negotiations.

    Advice to the GOP… keep demanding balanced budgets, reject any and all demands for additional tax increases (noting to the voting public that it will be again given to public sector employees)… but otherwise stay out of the debate.  Democrats are responsible for the mess and it won’t be fixed until the division in the party grows wide enough to demand true reform to our public employee compensation and benefits.  Ultimately this is going to have to result in public employee unions being outlawed and defined benefit pensions being converted to defined contribution plans.

  10. Miwok

    I fail to see why you  begrudge a few, and very few, since you laid them all off, a few thousand bucks over the AVERAGE, to live or buy a house in a town that has house prices many times that higher than the average?

    The City laid off a bunch of FD then complains the overtime and extra hours are driving up the cost of them? Incredible.

    1. Gunrocik

      I don’t recall any firefighters being laid off.  Roseville, Granite Bay, Fair Oaks and the Fab 40s have pretty expensive home prices as well.  Didn’t see any of those firefighters at the top of the list.

      Besides, most firefighters don’t live in their own communities anyway.  They usually work less than ten days a month, so commute distance isnt a big deal.  The vast majority of them live in the more affordable communities at the edge of the suburbs.

    2. hpierce

      Actually, think the vacancies were normal attrition, bu the positions weren’t filled, possibly due to the anticipation of less personnel/engine.

    3. Barack Palin

      Anyone making $132,000/year can afford to buy a house in Davis.  Maybe not in Lake Alhambra, but they can afford a house in Davis none the less.

      1. Don Shor

        From one online mortgage calculator:

        How much house can I afford if I make $132,000 a year?
        Based on the salary information you provided and the assumptions we have made below, this is the price of the most expensive house you can afford to buy:

        1. Barack Palin

          One can buy a decent house in Davis for $500,000.  30 years at 4% equals $2387/month plus @$600/mo. taxes equals @$3000/month.   In the beginning $1666 of interest and the $600 taxes are tax deductible, say one gets back about a third of that leaving an actual out of pocket house payment of $2250/month.  Very affordable for anyone, or most families unless they have something like 6 kids, making $132,000 year.

        2. hpierce

          Wow!  The “rule of thumb” of affording a house at 3-4 X gross salary has changed.  Then again, that rule of thumb was learned when I got a “good deal” on interest rates for a mortgage @ ~ 12 % (1980).  Makes sense.

        3. hpierce

          Barack… to get back 33% of mortgage interest and taxes, one would have to be in a 33% marginal tax rate.  Given standard deductions, etc., with State and Federal, not sure you can get there with 132K.  Might be wrong.

          The rest of your numbers seem good, though.

    4. Jim Frame

      I fail to see why you  begrudge a few, and very few, since you laid them all off, a few thousand bucks over the AVERAGE

      Over the average what?  All incomes in the city?  How about the average income of someone with a 2-year AS degree (the minimum to apply for a Firefighter I position)?  We’re not talking about “a few thousand bucks” in the latter case, more like $50k over average, maybe more.

      As others have indicated, city staff pay isn’t about what the taxpayers can afford, it’s what they’re willing to pay in order to fill the positions.  In a market that’s even roughly balanced, supply and demand will make that adjustment.  Don’t want to pay enough?  Then you won’t get any qualified people applying for your firefighter positions.  Got 500 qualified people lined up overnight for a single Firefighter I opening?  Then you’re paying way, way too much.

      1. hpierce

        True words.  Folk shouldn’t generalize too much, though.  Other professional positions (non-FF) within the City haven’t had near that number of truly qualified candidates.  Fifteen years ago, for some professions, the City went thru recruitments for professional positions where no one was selected, due to the paucity of qualified candidates.  Not a lot of hiring lately, so not sure what it’s like today for other professional positions where you’d want retentions over a career.

    1. Topcat

      Very interesting.  I’m sure that the firefighters have a lot of things to do, but it seems like what I see the firefighters doing mostly is shopping at the supermarkets for food that I presume they are going to take back to the fire station and cook.  I’ll bet some of those guys are pretty good cooks.

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