Analysis: Firefighters Remain Highest Paid in the City

Friends of Davis Fire

Friends of Davis Fire

Back in May of 2009, the Vanguard ran an analysis on “Why Do Firefighters Make Substantially More Than Police Officers in Davis?” At the time, there was a large salary discrepancy between equivalent positions in the two departments – stemming from the 36 percent pay increase given to fire in 2004 compared to a more modest 18 percent given to police.

By 2013, another Vanguard analysis found that “Davis Firefighters Near Top in Compensation, Police Near Bottom.” The analysis found that Davis Firefighters at the time made 5.1 percent above mean on salary and 7.4 percent above mean on total compensation, while their police counterparts made 5.7 percent below mean on total compensation for police officers. Of the comparison cities, only Fairfield paid more in total compensation (by a narrow margin) for fire, while Davis was third to last in total compensation for police.

Since that article, the city has agreed to two additional contracts with the Davis Police Officers while being forced to impose a new contract in late 2013 on fire.

This weekend, the Sacramento Bee did a listing of the top 50 local government salaries in the region for 2014, according to Transparent California’s website. According to the article, “The income does not include employer payments for health care or pensions.”

Listed are six Davis firefighters. Writes the Bee, “Overtime pay is what put five Davis firefighters in the list of top 50 salaries last year. Luis Parrilla, a firefighter, made $83,000 in overtime last year, helping to bring his total pay to just under $300,000.”

The Bee noted, “About one-third of the overtime was reimbursed by other government agencies for wildfire work, said Jackie Jaskowiak, a human resources analyst for the city of Davis. The fire department also had an increase in overtime because of the loss of five employees at the end of 2013, she said.”

Ranking Name Title Agency Total Pay
8. Richard Moore Fire Captain Davis $297,692
10. Luis Parrilla Firefighter II Davis $294,308
15. Stephen Phillips Firefighter II Davis $275,920
16. William Cahill Firefighter II Davis $275,814
18. Ronald Zoghbi Jr. Fire Captain Davis $265,576
38. Joseph Tenney Fire Division Chief Davis $241,709
44. Landy Black Police Chief Davis $236,908

A few critical notes here.

First, the six highest paid employees in Davis were all firefighters. The only non-firefighter that made the top 50 list was outgoing police chief Landy Black.

Second, for those who wish to argue that overpayment of firefighters is endemic to the field and this is not an exclusive Davis phenomena, note that there are indeed 13 firefighters on the list, but six of them are from Davis.

Third, there are six firefighters listed from Davis, three from Sacramento, and two each from Folsom and Roseville.

Fourth, the list includes a Fire Battalion Chief, three fire division chiefs (one from Davis), five fire captains (two from Davis) and four firefighters (three from Davis).

Fifth, while some of the overtime was for statewide strike teams reimbursed by the state, the city HR person put that figure only at one-third.

Finally, even taking into account overtime, these individuals are still making over $200,000 without overtime.

After the Vanguard hammered the issue of overtime in 2009 and 2010, the Vanguard found that overtime use was way down in an article in June 11 – “Overtime Use Way Down in City of Davis.”

The Vanguard analysis found that “the city had achieved a good deal of savings through the reduction of overtime.” When the Vanguard ran an “initial study of the 100K Club of Davis, we noted that there were 61 members of that 100K Club of Davis.  Of those, 48 were public safety employees and 38 were firefighters.” Those numbers would fall drastically, “not due to a pay cut, but rather due to a profound drop in overtime usage.”

In 2007-08, the city spent $1.55 million on overtime pay.  By 2010-11, that number had fallen to $686 thousand.

At the time, Davis Police Chief Landy Black told the Vanguard, “The OT reductions we have been able to achieve came about through conscientious and concerted efforts here at the PD. City Hall has directed all departments to reduce OT and the PD has done a fairly good job at accomplishing it.”

But overtime pay is only a small part of this puzzle. Even without factoring overtime pay and looking at base salaries as well as total compensation, Davis firefighters are near the top.

In early December, the city council approved a 3 percent COLA for police officers, among other bargaining units. Fire has not agreed to a new contract since late 2009 and had one imposed four years later. They have not come to the bargaining table. The gap between fire and police compensation remains large.

—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.

Related posts


  1. Barack Palin

    It doesn’t take a whole lot of education to become a firefighter.  Why are we as a city paying them so much?  We could cut their pay in half and would still have hundreds of applicants for the jobs.

  2. sisterhood

    I’ve mentioned before it’s difficult for me to be objective on this subject. The Davis firefighters saved the life of my labrador retriever, a rescue dog from Yolo Co. Animal Shelter. She would not have done well if she had to breathe the smoke from the south Davis fire near Albany Cl many years ago. That dog comforted my kids so much over the years. We loved our dog like a member of our family. Rescue animals  rescue you, not the other way around. The Davis firefighters also saved the structural home we were renting. But it’s more difficult to put a price on the firefighters rescue of our rescue dog.

    I realize they get paid a lot. I just don’t know how to adequately explain what exactly they rescued in our family when they saved the life of my beloved dog. I was out of the house that morning when the fire broke out in the field. The firefighters evacuated everyone on Albany Cl in a timely, gentle fashion. They did their job with so much compassion that even today I am starting to feel tears in my eyes when I describe how much I appreciate each and every one of them. I cannot be objective. I can only say, from our entire family, thank you firefighters.

    1. Frankly

      I cannot be objective.

      You should work on that.  It can be a problem when needing to make good decisions in life.

      Emotional intelligence includes the ability to understand our emotions and come to a rational conclusion.

      In terms of this “hero premium” that you seem to want to give to the firefighters.  How about American soldiers and what they have provided you and your pets to be safe and secure?  Let’s compare what they make and how difficult and dangerous their jobs are compared to firefighters.

      There is absolutely no justification for the gross levels of compensation we are giving firefighters.  It is asinine.  And anybody defending it owns the label that is the first part of that last word in the prior sentence.

  3. SODA

    For interest sake, what is our current fire chief’s salary? What are the current stats on overtime?

    To me 1/3 as overtime is significant. Breakdown might be more illuminating. And assume overtime is non voluntary when they are asked?

    1. South of Davis

      SODA wrote:

      > For interest sake, what is our current fire chief’s salary?

      I’m impressed that Chief Trauernicht does not get overtime.  To me it always seemed strange that a guy making $200K + will get time and a half (or double time) to work one hour of overtime.

      > And assume overtime is non voluntary when they are asked?

      It is VERY rare that overtime is “non-voluntary”.  My best friend is a Northern California (not Davis) firefighter and makes a base salary of $143K (per transparent CA) so when he holds over for just one 24 hour “overtime” shift he makes MORE than $2,500 for just that one shift (It looks like he averaged two days of overtime per month in 2014).  In the rare case that my friend does not want to work overtime (like when he is heading to his condo on Maui or his cabin with a view of Tahoe) the next guy on the list will almost always want to do it (hang out with the guys while watching the kids from the local JC fire science program clean the trucks and the station).  It is important to remember that most CA firefighters base pay is for just 10 (24 hour) shifts a month so when you have 20 “days off” EVERY month a couple days of overtime is usually not a big deal…

    2. hpierce

      Fire Chief is executive mgt in most entities… no overtime… they often get mgt leave for when they have to work ‘outside’ ‘regular hours’.  A fixed amount, usually less than the extra hours worked.

      1. South of Davis

        It seems like the actual police and fire “chief” (the top guy) usually does not get overtime but just one level below (like the “battalion chiefs”) still get OT (as below in Roseville where the “battalion chief” gets OT and makes more than the “chief”)

        This is MUCH different than the private sector where more than 90% of the people making $100K+ are “mgt. in most entities” and don’t get OT.


  4. hpierce

    FF’s are a rare breed… they are on shifts, that include sleeping, eating, maintaining equipment, inspections, fire prevention, building plan review, training, responding to ‘events’, etc.  But on their shift, they need to respond immediately.  Often, they are not called on to respond to an emergency.  Often, they are.

    I offer no opinion here as to compensation.  But it is a unique profession.  And medical calls for service are a big factor in Davis.

  5. Davis Progressive

    the comment by barack is key.  we get people lining up in the cold to get a job here – we are overpaying.  we can’t buy a police officer and they are lining up for jobs for fire – what does that tell you?  when are we going to fix this?

    1. SODA

      How to fix DP? Keep raising police salaries? Although possibly warranted, that doesn’t seem fiscally wise  for our city. Doubt we can do anything about the firefighter salaries that were raised so recklessly by prior CC?

        1. SODA

          Yes BP and wonder if the 3% COLA will be added to FF once they come to bargaining table? What is the status of that negotiation and why have they not come to the table if the contract is overdue. There must be a good reason?

  6. sisterhood

    What happens to the Davis firefighters who discover lung problems, heart problems, exposure to old popcorn ceilings, back/knee sx, etc.? Asbestosis exposure, etc.? What happens to their families and their friends, including their pets, when those firefighters are disabled? Are they properly compensated, and what is fair compensation for a kind firefighter who has serious health problems? How is that compensation fairly measured?

    1. Barack Palin

      What happens to a lot of workers who suffer job related health problems who don’t make $100’s of thousands a year?  We have programs that cover those sorts of things, for all workers.  Do you think over paid firefighters deserve special benefits that other hard working lesser paid workers don’t?

    2. Frankly

      So, firefighters are victims?

      You do know that the safety protocol and equipment advances have decreased these risks you mentioned to be barely over those of the general population?

      You do know that the job of a firefighter does not even make the top-15 most dangerous jobs?  In fact the job of a firefighter is about as dangerous of that as a bus mechanic and electrician.  And police have a more dangerous job so why are we not paying police more than firefighters?  And landscape / grounds-maintenance workers are in more danger than police, so why are we not paying those guys more than firefighters and cops?

    3. PhilColeman

      Replying to sisterhood’s first question only. Public Safety employees do face greater health and risks than other employee categories, only a few of such hazards were named. Worker Compensation laws provide compensation should these duty-related sicknesses or injuries cause long-term or permanent impairment, including disability retirement.

      To additionally demonstrate public safety job protection, some categories of injuries/illnesses are classified as, “presumptive,” which presumes they are job-related unless employer can clearly prove they are not. The burden of proof shifting to the employer commonly results in an employee award.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for