The recent contract agreement in the Monarch Fire Protection District and approval of the Metro West Fire Protection District’s $19.4 million Proposition L show that communities are willing to support their fire and emergency medical services. But expenses ranging from mutual aid to other fire departments to growing fuel costs mean St. Louis County’s fire and emergency medical providers face increasing demands.
Metro West serves 57.5 square miles, while neighboring Monarch serves 55 square miles. Eureka’s area is even larger, and serves the busy Imterstate 44 corridor. In 2011, the Eureka Fire Protection District responded to 1,274 calls for medical emergencies, 414 fire alarms and 133 requests from other fire departments for mutual aid.
Eureka-Wildwood Patch surveyed public records to see how area districts are handling their financial burdens. The largest single cost is for salaries and benefits. The larger districts, including Metro West and Monarch, have higher starting salaries, but also cap salaries after a few years’ experience. After that, salary increases depend on promotion to officer positions, which include different responsibilities. In a 2009 survey, Metro West’s 60 non-officer firefighters averaged $74,585 per year, while Monarch’s 85 firefighters, engineers and paramedics averaged $79,275.03.
But direct salary comparisons between firefighters or across department lines can be misleading. Because suburban fire districts are called on to deal with everything from multi-vehicle accidents to forest fires to water rescues, firefighters often have numerous certifications and skill sets. That can affect salaries as districts look for specific skills.
Metro West, for example, was the first district in St. Louis County to receive an Emergency Medical Services for Children paramedic certification. Eureka’s special operations teams include water rescue, a technical rescue team trained to work in confined access and a regional support team that assists in managing large-scale events. Monarch and Metro West provide trained staff for the region’s Special Operations Aviation Rescue unit.
The rising cost of health insurance is hitting the districts in different ways. Monarch has budgeted nearly $2 million for health insurance for its 128 employees. (Monarch has its complete compensation/benefits package online.) By contrast, Eureka self-insures its employees; that is, the district itself is financially responsible for claims rather than paying an insurer to assume that risk.
Controlling overtime is critical, because departments must walk a tightrope between adequate and over-staffing, taking illness, vacations, training and other disruptions into account. Metro West does an exceptional job of staffing. According to the 2009 survey, overtime costs represented only 2.6 percent of its firefighter salaries.
Despite differences in equipment and personnel, all districts provide a high level of service. The Public Protection Classification ratings, which are used by insurance companies, are very good for all districts, noted Shannon Haney, an agent for FCNB Insurance. “Insurance companies use fire protection classes to help rate a community’s ability to fight fires,” she said. The classes range from 1 to 10. Class 1 provides the best fire protection. In the West St. Louis County area, the fire classes are good. Metro West is class 3, Eureka and Monarch are both class 4 and *Pacific is at a class 5.* This helps keep insurance premiums low.” *Editor's Note: See important, updated classification notation at end of this article.
2011 Fire District Residential Tax Rates
Source: St. Louis County
Update/Correction May 31, 2012@ 4:05 p.m.:
Pacific Fire Protection District Chief Richard Friedmann emailed Patch writer Lou Malnassy with updated information for the Pacific District. He stated on Nov. 1, 2011, their Public Protection Classification improved to a class 3, as did areas outside of the city limits that had creditable water supplies. "All other properties without creditable water remained a public protection class 5," he shared. Thank you, Chief Friedmann