Las Vegas firefighters are getting paid too much

Victor Joecks

This headline from the Review-Journal is all the proof you need – “15 Las Vegas firefighter openings draw hundreds of hopefuls.”

In one day, 1,440 people applied to be a Las Vegas firefighter. Officials capped the number of applications they would accept at 1,500.

“We typically see about 1,800 applications in a regular year,” city spokeswoman Diana Paul said. “We knew we’d have an overwhelming response.”

Now, if this were a private business, such an overwhelming response would signal to the business’ operators that they were offering a salary well above what the market requires.

In government, however, there are political, not market, forces at work. Firefighters are well-organized and politically powerful. They have used these political advantages to obtain salaries that are well above what someone would earn for a similar job in the private sector.

I don’t begrudge anyone just because he makes a lot of money. What’s upsetting here is that firefighters are using taxpayers’ dollars to subsidize their artificially high wages.

The jobs are good ones in normal times, let alone in the middle of a recession. They pay well, come with a good health insurance plan, allow early retirement and don’t require a college degree…

The annual salary for a Las Vegas firefighter starts at $49,947 and caps off at $77,602.

Once hired, the firefighters can retire earlier than other city workers and can increase their earnings by getting overtime, callback and longevity pay.

No doubt many factors go into choosing a career, but the financial benefits of firefighting are considerable and go well beyond annual salary.

For instance, more than 70 percent of Clark County firefighters earn over $100,000 a year, and 78 percent earn over 30,000 a year in benefits. I’d give you the data for Las Vegas firefighters, but the city isn’t complying with Nevada’s open-records laws.