Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- The Columbia Richland Fire Department is asking for more money to pay firefighters. Chief Aubrey Jenkins says the pay is so low there are firefighters who qualify for and receive food stamps.
Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins presented a study to city council that says in the past five years, they have lost 60% of the department to attrition. Mainly to retirement, new jobs, or other departments.
"Today was just an opportunity to bring before council to let them know the issues they we are facing within the department not only attracting good people, but retaining good people as well, said Jenkins. "To pay a firefighter ten dollars and fifty cent and hour, I really think we can do better than that."
Jenkins hope is that by increasing the budget for city and county firefighter salaries, they will have less turnover.
"We want to get into a comparable rate with other departments because we don't want to train people then lose them to other departments."
While no specific ideas on how to fund the salary increase were given at this meeting, Mayor Steve Benjamin says the city will work with the fire department to find innovative ways to do it.
"It's going to be one of my top two priorities this budget year," said Mayor Benjamin. "If this is important. If there is no other creative ways to do it, then we just got to move this to the top of the list and deal with the unique problem that has evolved in funding."
As of right now the City/County joint fire dept receives $20 million dollars a year. While challenges exist to get the department fully staffed, it's a task Jenkins believes is obtainable.
"When we open up our application process we will probably attract two to three hundred applicants within a couple of months. So it is still an exciting time to be apart of a great organization," said Jenkins.
With starting pay for firefighters around ten dollars an hour, the Chief hopes the presentation will begin a conversation with the city to look at ways to increase the departments budget for compensation.
There were no official City Council action or votes taken at the Public Safety committee meeting.