20190818-bc-fire (copy)

In this file photo, members of the Kern County Fire Department loads up with water on North Chester Avenue.

It’s been nearly five months since the Kern County Firefighters Union and Board of Supervisors declared an impasse in negotiations of a new collective bargaining agreement, but the two parties will soon meet one last time in the hopes of coming to a deal.

If county officials and the union fail to come to an agreement, supervisors could impose their own conditions to the contract, bypassing a union vote.

The county has proposed cutting $3.4 million from overtime pay as part of its new contract. Although the figure represents a small portion of the nearly $24 million in total overtime pay the county doles out each year, the union has said any cuts to overtime should be met with increases in base pay, citing cost of living increases and the fact that they haven’t earned a raise since 2008.

Lurking in the background of the negotiations is a nearly $9 million structural deficit in the county’s fire fund, the semi-independent budget allocation that pays for the county’s firefighting operations.

The county has been working with the Fire Department for years to eliminate the deficit, but a plan to make the department solvent has yet to emerge.

Cuts to overtime would have slimmed down the fire fund deficit, but the county says raising pay to make up for the reductions in overtime would wipe out any positive savings the fire fund could see from such a move.

“Our position going into these negotiations is we can’t accept an agreement that would have a net cost increase on the fire fund,” said Kern Chief Human Resources Officer Devin Brown.

Only after the deficit has been eliminated should the county look at improving firefighters salaries, he said.

A neutral fact finding panel recently analyzed the situation between the county and the firefighters union, and recommended the county implement a 6 percent raise to all firefighters over two years, along with 5 percent raise to members who maintain EMT certification, to offset the cuts to overtime.

If the county did not offset those overtime cuts, the panel said income levels for Kern County firefighters would fall far behind those other jurisdictions.

“I’ve already got a considerable amount of individuals who are taking tests for other departments,” said union President Dave Nelson. “I have captains on the list with departments in southern California to start all the way over as a rookie fireman. So if we don’t come up with something, as these SoCal Departments hire, we’re going to see a mass exodus from here.”

The panel noted that in 2018, the Fire Department experienced a 6 percent turnover rate, with 21 members leaving to work elsewhere.

The union says that its members earn between 21 percent to 26 percent below the mean. However, whether or not Kern County firefighters are paid lower than their counterparts at the city of Bakersfield is up for debate between the two parties.

A mediation meeting has been scheduled for Oct. 25.

Nelson said he was excited about returning to the bargaining table.

“Maybe the county comes on an ‘aha’ moment, or we come on an ‘aha’ moment,” he said.

Kern County firefighters overwhelming opposed the county’s previous offer, which included the cuts to overtime.

The county says recruitment and retention are not significant issues within the department, but the union worries that if pay levels are not addressed soon, they will be in the future.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.

(22) comments

Mike Hunt

When there are 5000 people waiting to take your job for not being payed enough , I kinda think your getting paid enough...... Fire departments never have a hard time looking for recruits.....


Wow. There is a lot of hate in these comments. How quickly the public forgets the consequences that come with serving in public safety.

Let’s start with your regular duty commitment requires your life be served at the Fire Station 1/3 of your life. Your spouse sleeps alone 1/3 of the time, you miss tucking in your kids 1/3 of the time, kids sports, holidays etc. And that’s just your non emergency regular duty.

Call volumes are up as much as 40% which requires recovery at home from sleepless nights running calls.

If you hadnt noticed the past 6 years with the drought, bug kill, climate change there have been massive fires wiping communities completely out. Your firefighters from towns, cities, Counties, State, and Federal were taxed to the max to assist these affected communities. ALL of this overtime is reimbursed to the local governments that helped.

A figure the public is not given by Devin Brown is how much of that overtime was reimbursed because of these statewide emergencies.

The “benefits” package you see on transparent California is a made up figure the County reports as they are self insured and there is no accountability even to the Unions how that “cost” is associated. I recommend you search other fire departments both Bakersfield City and beyond and you will find that reported amount is inflated.

As far as pension costs, the short answer is the previous board skipped payments pre-2008 (part of that mortgage/pension loaning bank scheme) when the market crashed those skipped payments were due with interest. The County took loans/bonds at interest only payment rates and now the balloon payments are coming due, enter the phony “structured deficit”.

Structured deficit, for decades your County Fire Department has been funded by multiple sources, Fire fund from property taxes, contracts with cities (which do not reflect actual costs, fault of the BOS), CalFire, Grants etc. But there has always been a general fund contribution that flexed with the other funding sources but was typically 7million to 27million. At the end of 2014 outgoing CAO declared your fire department “fire fund only” with oil at $150 a barrel, this happened to be the first time a general fund contribution needed. Prices crashed and now instead of general fund contributions we have a structural deficit. I encourage you all to dig deep and hold the elected officials accountable.

Your public safety members are out there responding to emergencies, planning for the next emergency/disaster and desperately trying to help the community be prepared. In their spare time, they train, coach, teach the next generation, volunteer, raise charitable contributions for charities, and spend their dollars in our local economy just like you!


Your no average Joe ! how much they paying you ? I am a old union guy from back east and I always heard that you " Earn what you can negotiate ". So if what is on the table for them is not enough for them, how much more do they want ? what are they willing to give back in return ? There are dangerous jobs where people work nights, weekends, holidays, around dangerous equipment and do not get the same backing from their unions as our heroes. Now stop comparing their pay to the ridiculous amounts like LA, OC, and Northern Ca. it makes no sense to do so.

Money is good right now for the city and it seems that others have gained increases through their unions but How much has the cost of overtime increased over the last 15 years, in other type of jobs a pay increase is just that, no overtime include !

They are not starving and the cost to fight fires is not going to go down, it will only increase in the future and the protected schedule that they work is never going to make it possible to have a eye's view of what the cost could potentially be.

The supervisors are not trying to screw them and people don't hate them but maybe you should look at the people writing's frustration with what they see as being selfish, they are not starving, they get plenty of goodies that the average JOE will never see in their employment, so they voice their opinion Joe. It is not hate dude, it is called an opinion and people have a right to say their's. It is good that you provided some much information to defend them, but you never know if in the future all the money that comes from other funds will still be there and it is the job of the supervisors to be as far as possible with all employees of the County & City of Bakersfield. It is not the worst job a person can have, that is why they make so many TV shows for them, If they get the money, good for them but if they don't, it can be a lot worst for a person Joe. Take the contract and find a way to expand the resources for the fires out of the city lines. they love what they dose you know what they say Joe, if you love what you do you will never work a day in your life !


Your comments are completely uneducated on the subject throughout this thread and based on no way on any actual facts.


You should learn to negotiate a contract without using sympathy and fear for monetary gain.

How about finding a way to decrease overtime and sell that to the Supervisors for a new contract ?


Here are some people trying to save the lives of the elderly and open the link to see what they earn Joe



Recruitment has never been a problem for the fire department. Why? Because they are overpaid and their benefits are over the top and unsustainable. If they don’t want to sign the contest offered, treat them like Reagan treated the Air Traffic Controllers In the 80’s. Fire them and hire new employees that appreciate their opportunity.




Gosh . . . oh golly gee . . . ! When I was flying sorties (daily or nightly--same oath) off a carrier in the far east, my pay (and bennies) was the same every month, 24/7 (no OT and we officers paid our own 'mess bill' afloat, haircuts were 'free'). Even when ditching @ 0115 in the Sea of Japan in January 1963, the 'pay-was-the-same'. . . as also when shore-based and afterwards as a "week-end warrior". If the BOQ was full (of JO's), we got BAQ (basic allowance for quarters). Married guys got extras, fixed per rate or rank.

Aren't police and firefighters (as para-military) kinda, sorta, in the same role . . . except they have 'unions'? Also wonder if those young "Wildland Fire Crews" (Tehachapi Eleven) are still "seasonal" . . . often loaned out & unrepresented and earnestly waiting to come aboard 'direct'(?) . . . but could be doing full-time public info and outreach(?).

I know, I know . . . too many questions . . .


Tax the wealthy corporations make them pay their fair share so we have the money to pay our civil servants.

Gene Pool Chlorinator

Exactly what "wealthy corporations" domiciled in Bakersfield would you tax, Copper??


If 20 or 30 firefighters leave for 5-10% more pay in other jurisdictions, they'll spend that extra 5-10% on taxes, commuting or relocating. Additionally, I think we can find 20-30 strapping and athletic19 year-olds to apply for those jobs abandoned by others and as for the higher ranking captain candidates we lose, we can just advance others in the department a little earlier. I've known a lot of firefighters and they're all great people but the intellect requirements of the job at all levels is not super high so replacements should be easy to find.


The other higher paying Jobs with Fire Departments have their own people that they want to hire, Family, Friends, you name it, they all ready been busted rigging the process, if the positions are made up of Volunteer's this mess would never happen. The monopoly is crushing to many people that want to do the job but can not get in the door for an opportunity !


Firefighters may sit on their butts or play games at the firehouse but when they do get a call they fight like heck to save the building and they put themselves in extreme danger doing so...those people earn every dollar they get paid and then some!


Nepotism rules this industry. Lower the pay and benefits by 70%, then let’s see who wants this job that mostly involves sitting at the firehouse, going to the gym, remodeling homes, working out, and doing anything else they want on our dime!

Chad Hathaway

Let’s not forget the 30% of the time they’re saving people’s lives.


Totally made up statistic...


Volunteer Fire Fighters are the best, just humans looking to risk their life to help people in distress, if you hire more Firefighters it will not matter, overtime is King and will always be there, money and the benefits are what keep it in the family, they make some good pensions as well, not to mention all the perks, civilians have no clue !

Soldiers fighting overseas in a foreign land aren't treated as well as the Blue Mafia !

Chad Hathaway

In my business we look at OT hours and ask ourselves if we should hire extra people to handle that load so we don’t have to pay OT. I feel bad for these public safety folks. The system has promised them more than they can ever deliver. Our pension system is on a one way road to BK.


Let the free market determine their wage...they have way more ppl appt than they accept. Because it’s a zero qualification job. Spare me the PR hero worship. They are overpaid and that’s a fact.

Chad Hathaway

I agree with your free market comment.


Look at TRANSPARENTCALIFORNIA.COM and see that the pensions, benefits and all other pay add up to much more than we all can dream of, not to mention discounts on home. car. and other insurance. Get get a deal with everything, home mortgage buying, the unions market them like stars, it is very political. You can not hire more and not go bankrupt ! People in fire prone areas need to come back to reality and live where the rest of us do, or we need a all volunteer fire department in California.

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