Public Safety Officials Evade Salary and Pension Reforms

Cops and firefighters can face dangerous situations, but the reality is those occupations are much safer than many others.

(Page 2 of 2)

In 2008 the Orange County Register noted that the average firefighter living in that California community earned $175,000 in salary and benefits each year.

In California and in many other states there is a “presumptive disability” law for firefighters that makes it easy for firemen to secure lifetime, tax-free pensions at three-quarters pay. A doctor is required to start with the assumption that certain illnesses are job-related. For example, it would be presumed that a firefighter’s high blood pressure is work related.

80 percent of 2010 Fire Department of New York retirees have qualified for disability benefits according to National Review.

Even in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker has led efforts to curtail collective bargaining by public employees, police and fire unions were exempted from his reforms.

Unlike most public sector unions, which are largely seen as aligned with Democrats, police and fire unions behave in a more bi-partisan manner by occasionally endorsing Republicans, says Vincent Vernuccio, a labor policy expert at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

This dynamic leaves neither party acting as a watchdog.

“Anecdotally, it would seem that Republicans have more of a law-and-order reputation. They seem so safety and security focused so it would make sense that they would be [more] charitable to first responders than to say – teacher unions,” said Andy Shaw, a longtime journalist who is president of Better Government Association, a Chicago-based government watchdog group.

“Firefighters are just held in high esteem by everyone in the Legislature.  After all, they are there to protect us and others and the only thing between them and harm’s way is their training,” said Illinois state Rep. Don Moffitt, R-Gilson.

Moffitt, who co-chairs the Fire Caucus, is the leading advocate for firefighters in the Illinois Legislature.

“Yes, police firefighters and EMS have a lot of clout, but I find that their demands are altogether reasonable,” added Moffitt, whose son is a firefighter.

Moffitt’s words came only a day after a Better Government Association investigation found that during the past 20 years about 40 veteran Lansing, Ill., police officers and firefighters were given salary boosts by the village as they were retiring, escalating their individual pensions by at least $6,000 each annually in the first year alone. Altogether, at least $2.5 million in added pension payouts have been dispersed since this taxpayer-funded perquisite was created in 1993.

Shaw, president of the BGA, said that if one suburb is doing this, it is likely that other communities across Illinois are as well. 

Just why it is that police officers and firefighters are the recipients of this largess is an open question. 

“Police, fire paramedics – they save lives, they save property and they risk their lives to do those things,” Shaw said. “So in some ways we should be especially grateful and we should be fair and generous – but not excessive. … This is appreciation on steroids.”

Scott Reeder is the Franklin Center’s national investigative reporter. He is based in Springfield, Ill.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • John Thacker||

    Why the third rail? Because when they were included in Ohio, voters repealed all the cuts.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    “Yes, police firefighters and EMS have a lot of clout, but I find that their demands are altogether reasonable,” added Moffitt, whose son is a firefighter.

    I just can't figure out why Illinois is in such bad financial shape.

    (And 911 just put a block on Reeder's phone.)

  • Agile Cyborg||

    “Police, fire paramedics – they save lives, they save property and they risk their lives to do those things,”

    They do so at their own behest and to put a pragmatic spin on it most of the people involved in this type of business have a savior complex (not a big deal but the point is the 'job' fulfills a human psychological need in these types so why over-appreciate them?), need the cash (nuttin' wrong with this but I'm just sayin' why over-appreciate them?), or are psychotic egomaniacs and cannot be hired anywhere else.

    Something about our cracker society and its infatuation with security which engorges the union system really irritates me.

  • WTF||

    And as Reeder notes, Farmers, ranchers, commercial fishermen, loggers, garbage collectors, truck drivers, construction workers, pilots, steel workers, roofers, and others are far more likely to face death on the jobs than police or firefighters, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    They do so at their own behest and to put a pragmatic spin on it most of the people involved in this type of business have a savior complex . . .

    In my experience, with firefighters at least, this isn't the case. The savior complex is what's built in to them after they have been torn down during fire college. Most I knew just wanted a job that pays well.

    A very good friend of mine is a firefighter. He was a reliable Team RED voter. Until he became a firefighter and was infected by the union, being brainwashed to think that going from $40k to $65k in 2 years was appropriate (having risen to nearly $80k after just 6 years), that free health and retirement was a right, and that looking to ask them to pay for some of their own benefits was "stealing what we've earned."

    He also fully admits, despite being in a rather large, highly populated metropolitan area in South Florida, to having fought very few fires (his exact words were, "In 5 years, I can count how many fires I've fought if I took one hand and cut two fingers off"), and that the vast majority of his job is sitting around the fire station and dicking off in between being used as an ambulance service for old people who didn't really need to call 911, but did anyways.

  • sarcasmic||

    The only possible explanation for this article is that libertarians hate firefighters.
    Why do you hate firefighters?

  • Killazontherun||

    Libertarians are elemental loving Lolth worshipers.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    How often do firefighter actually work? As in, you know fighting structural fires. 'Cause those have become vanishingly rare in 21st century America.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    A fiend that I grew up with has been working with a fire department for 6 years, and has fought 3 fires, none of them major.

  • BarryD||

    But what makes him a fiend, specifically?

    That said, I think I've fought 3 minor fires in the past 6 years, myself, just around the house. If I watched Mythbusters more often, I'm sure it would be 10 times that.

  • thirtyandseven||

    Why do you hate firefighters?

    Because they drive their trucks on ROADZ!1!


  • WTF||

    When I was in south Jersey recently I saw the Philadelphia news where there was a huge ceremony, thousands of cops in dress uniforms, roads closed, politican's speeches, etc., to honor the fallen 'hero' - a cop who had died off-duty when he was hit by a drunk driver. My thought was what makes his highway death so fucking special? The whole spectacle was rediculous.

  • Killazontherun||

    Reminds me of an account from a Memorial Day at a park where a band was paid to perform, only to be forced off stage so the cops could sing some faggot Irish crap for their own aggrandizement.

  • Rich||

    In this vein, what is it with "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes?

  • Killazontherun||

    'Amazing Grace' is instant poignancy for the souless inclined.

  • Killazontherun||

    Yeah, I should have used italics instead of quotes, but I just wasn't feeling it.

  • mybarber||

    It seems that cops are no more likely to be shot and killed than the rest of us.Fire fighters rarely die on the jog.Job.Yet they spinthis yarn about danger,as though only they face it every day.The most dangerous thing any one can do is drive their car,or go in their bath room and still the odds are in your favor by far.So why do these oeiple get a pass,hero worship,made worse by the attack on 911

  • AlgerHiss||

    Ever so slowly, we’re beginning to learn just how much we’ve been bamboozeled about the “gallantry” and “heroism” of these two groups, especially LEO’s: Is there any other group better at breaking their own arms when patting themselves on the back?

    A great example of this bluster and tail blowing is this entry at Officer Down:

  • Mainer2||

    Thanks for that. The man dies from an allergic reaction to a bee sting while working the salvage detail, and they seriously call him a hero. FFS, is there anything a cop does that isn't heroic ?

  • mad libertarian guy||

    FFS, is there anything a cop does that isn't heroic ?

    Snitch on one of their own for breaking the law.

  • Loki||

    “Yes, police firefighters and EMS have a lot of clout, but I find that their demands are altogether reasonable,” added Moffitt, whose son is a firefighter.

    Completeyl unbiased opinion, I'm sure.

  • mybarber||

    Tjis hero worship also exists fot the U.S, armed forces.A very small amount of the people in the military have faced combat since 911,If your in the navy or ari force you pretty sae.In many cases safer then the average America,except Seals of course.Fighter pilots are more likely to be killed in training then combat.Yet every member is put on the hero pedestal.The government needs a large 'hair cut',including the military

  • 21044||

    Just an ordinary Navy day:

    It is just like working as a programer at Microsoft.

  • 21044||

    Fighter pilots are more likely to be killed in training then combat.

    After the first Gulf War I was at an airshow in the UK and heard a RAF pilot state that the RAF's casualty rate per flight hour during the war was half of what the casualty rate was during peace time. However, neither stat means that the pilots are "[i]n many cases safer then the average America[sic]."

  • BarryD||


    I'm sure that 100% of Microsoft programmers go their entire careers without ever killing anyone by drowning them while at work, as shown in that video.

  • Bill Occam||

    The number of fires has declined by 40% over the last 30 years yet the number of career firefighters has increased by 40%.

    In Orange County CA, which is the definition of runaway compensation, only 2% of the calls fire engines respond to are actually fires!

    See here for more:

  • Ron||

    Of course everyone who has commented so far is leaving out the fact that when a logger or farmer or etc goes to work there is little to no chance that someone is going to pull a gun on them or try to stab them or that they are going to have to run into a building ready to save some fool who wouldn't leave. That does take something I don't have. The other point is even though this person died in a non job related accident there is no reason his fellow workers can't honor him for his part in their field. That being said their position does not necessarily correlate to outtragious pay and benifits.

  • Tommy_Grand||

    "The other point is even though this person died in a non job related accident there is no reason his fellow workers can't honor him for his part in their field."

    Did his co-wokers honor him or did the taxpayers honor him? Hint: check the name on the tab.

  • hk||

    Yes all public sector employees are overpaid and inefficient.

    And the taxpayers that should not be paying anything.

  • Harvard||

    [That does take something I don't have.]

    Just because you're a sackless little puss......

  • Ron||

    Some people can't join even if they want to asshole

  • Robert||

    The lawn mower he was riding tipped over...and then what? Did it somehow wind up upright y on top of him y cut his head off?

  • dan'o||

    As an EMS student I did a dozen or so 12 hour shifts with an private co. ambulance crew stationed at a Fire house. The Paramedic made ~$18 an hour and the EMT B made $11. The Fire guys (who "work" 48 hours straight with 96 hours off- leaving time for a second job) started at 48K annually before additional bennies. On a busy day we would have 5 calls, meaning that the vast majority of the day was spent farting around the firehouse doing crossword puzzles and pushups. Add to that retirement after 20 years, community discounts and admiration and it comes as no surprise there were roughly 1200 applicants for each fire job in the state that year.

  • WimFooo||

    I like the way that sound s dude.

  • Robert Enders||

    I applied to be a police officer a couple times, but I never made it past the interview. There were 200 applicants for 20 positions, and this was in 2001 before 9/11. Even more people wanted applied after 9/11, but the deadline for application had already past for that year. There are by far way more people who want these job than can have these jobs, even in the best of economic times.

  • Registration At Last!||

    "Even in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker has led efforts to curtail collective bargaining by public employees, police and fire unions were exempted from his reforms."


    Gotta love the use of the passive voice there. Most amusing. It just sort of 'happened' while Scott Walker was standing around, minding his own business, collecting the endorsements of the very unions that got exempted.


    "Anecdotally, it would seem that Republicans have more of a law-and-order reputation. They seem so safety and security focused...."


    Oh, yeah. Purely anecdotally. Can't really say for sure. Kind of a wild, way-out-there guess. The GOP bloats the violence-based arm of the Leviathan, while human services go begging. Maybe there is some reason, but then again maybe not. Hmmm....

  • BarryD||

    It's fine with me if "human services" go begging.

    Now if we could just get Team Blue to cut back on the violence-based arm of the Leviathan... In fact, they bloat it even more.

  • Registration At Last!||

    "The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh." -- Ecclesiastes 4:5

  • ||

    as somebody who received an approximately 30% raise over the last 6 yrs, i wouldn't use the word "evade" because it sounds all sinister

    but it's damn right despite the recession we haven't seen across the board cuts

    SOME agencies have. god knows my benefits and salary have improved

  • JR_Longhorn||

    Reading the (undoubtedly) verified claim of $175k/yr firefighters in OC, as espoused by the author, recalls an article regarding my employer. In the article, the city attorney made the claim city firefighters received a 58% raise by retiring at 25 years. When asked why then any rational individual worked more than 25 years...crickets.

    BECAUSE IT'S A LIE. These people are disingenuous at best and fabricate stories and numbers. There is nothing else to it.

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