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Are Fargo's firefighters paid enough?

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FARGO — Fargo's firefighters are busier than ever, responding to more and more calls each year.

Which is why the president of Fargo's Loca International Association of Firefighters Chapter, a firefighter's union brought concerns about pay to a special commission meeting this week.

"We met with all of you and compared our pay study to our employees at the fire department with other fire departments," said Eric Eisenlohr, IAFF Local 642's president.

He says a study conducted by the union shows Fargo's firefighters make almost 20 percent less than those at comparable departments.

"Again we found we were the lowest when it came time for pay and benefits," said Eisenlohr.

Mayor Tim Mahoney says the city's way of calculating wages is much more accurate.

"We go through things and we look through things when you do a market study. Their study was biased in one direction, ours was in another direction," said Mayor Tim Mahoney.

It boils down to the city saying its firefighters are paid competitive wages, while the union says they make well below average. But how can the two have such drastically different numbers?

WDAY reached out to Eisenlohr to learn more about the Union's study.

He says the department has lost ten firefighters in the last four years to fire departments in other cities or to other jobs. Eisenlohr believes higher wages would keep them from losing as many.

The union's pay study compared wages and bonuses adjusted for cost of living between Fargo's firefighters, and seven other departments that met certain criteria, such as size and accreditation.

The pay study suggested Fargo's firefighters are underpaid.

A list of Fargo firefighters salaries, not including marshals or captains, showed a rage of $43,000 - $61,000, based on experience. 

For example, a 10-year vet in Fargo makes about $8,000 less than one in Sioux Falls South Dakota, after cost of living and bonus pay is factored in.

When compared to departments Fargo has lost firefighters to, Fargo also lagged in pay by the union's standards.

WDAY also asked the city for clarification about how they keep wages competitive.

Fargo's HR director explained market studies are conducted every three years, and compared wages with sixteen different cities of similar size; that's more than twice as many as the union study.

The city's process is less selective, and offers a larger sample size to compare with, making it harder to cherry-pick favorable comparisons.

While the two sides may not agree completely, they are both say they want to make sure the firefighters are paid fairly, even if a solution can't be found overnight.

"It takes time to look at something in a thoughtful way," said Mahoney.