The Public Eye

Sacramento Metro Fire dominates list of top-paid firefighters in region

Sacramento Metro Firefighters mop up a grass fire in Fair Oaks on Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Sacramento Metro Firefighters mop up a grass fire in Fair Oaks on Wednesday, May 13, 2015 hamezcua@sacbee.com

The Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District paid salaries of at least $200,000 to 67 employees in 2014, the same year it cited concerns about excessive pay as its reason for withdrawing a proposed hike in property assessments.

More than three-quarters of the 100 highest-paid fire department employees in the capital region worked for Metro Fire that year, the Sacramento Bee found in analysis of data collected by the Nevada Research Policy Institute, a nonprofit based in Las Vegas that collects salary information from every government agency in California. Metro Fire reviewed the data and did not dispute the information.

 

Metro Fire Capt. Randall Wootton topped the list with $316,000 in pay. The agency, which serves much of suburban Sacramento County and a sliver of Placer County, had far more employees in the top 100 than any of the other 18 fire departments in Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer and Yolo counties included in the analysis. The Sacramento Fire Department had the second-most employees on the list with 10.

Metro Fire has long faced criticism about its compensation, and those concerns came to a head when the department proposed an assessment in March 2014 that would have cost the average homeowner an additional $27.50 a year. Then-Fire Chief Kurt Henke said the increase was necessary to reopen three stations that closed during the recession, among other needs.

Henke backed off the proposal when the Sacramento Taxpayers Association cited excessive Metro Fire salaries as its reason for opposing the hike, and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association suggested the majority-vote assessment was illegal under state law.

Marcia Fritz, a member of the Sacramento taxpayers group, said Metro Fire has not done enough to address the association’s complaints about compensation.

“Why should we pay higher taxes so they can have these higher paying jobs?” she said. “We really need to rethink how we provide this service.”

Fire Chief Mark Wells, who was promoted to the top spot after Henke’s retirement in 2014, cites two reasons for Metro Fire having the most top-paid firefighters in the region.

One, he said, Metro Fire has more employees on the list because it is by far the biggest fire department in the region, with about 600 employees in 2014. Second, the district sends more people to work on wildfires and natural disasters than other area departments, leading to an increase in overtime pay, he said.

Overtime pay provided a big boost for Metro Fire’s top-paid employees, an average of about $80,000 each, the Bee’s analysis found. Wildfire work accounted for less one-fifth of that pay, according to figures provided by the district.

Overtime pay made up 23 percent of compensation at Metro Fire in 2014, the same percentage for other municipal fire departments in the region, according to The Bee analysis.

Fritz said another factor helps boost Metro Fire pay: its labor agreement. Signed in 2007, the agreement calls for Metro Fire to receive pay equal to that of the biggest and best-paying departments in the state. Specifically, the agreement says the district shall look at pay at 12 of the biggest departments in the state, find which of the five pay the most, and then pay the average for those departments.

Wells declined to discuss the contract, since he is in negotiations with the union. The contract expired Dec. 31 but remains in effect until a new agreement replaces it.

While he would not discuss the contract, he said it’s important to note that Metro Fire firefighters have not had a raise since 2009. He also said Metro Fire’s average wages have declined in recent years.

Top-paid firefighters

The Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District had more top-paid firefighters in 2014 than any other department in Sacramento, El Dorado, Yolo and Placer counties.

Employee name

Job title

Agency

Total pay

1. Randall C. Wootton

Fire captain

Sacramento Metro Fire

$316,045

2. Kurt P. Henke

Fire chief

Sacramento Metro Fire

303,875

3. Charles H. Jenkins Jr.

Battalion chief

Sacramento Metro Fire

280,517

4. Erik Roman Rubalcava

Fire captain

Sacramento Metro Fire

278,684

5. Michael W. Hazlett

Fire captain

Sacramento Metro Fire

276,324

6. Jason N. Vestal

Fire captain

Sacramento Metro Fire

274,074

7. Michael D. Bradford

Fire captain

Sacramento Metro Fire

269,326

8. Maurice D. Johnson

Assistant chief

Sacramento Metro Fire

268,961

9. Stephen B. Craig

Fire captain

Sacramento Metro Fire

266,913

10. Dennis L. Wycoff

Fire division chief shift

Folsom Fire Department

260,326

Source: Bee analysis of data from Transparent California

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