by Patrick Appel
Cohn returns to the subject and makes a couple worthwhile points. A reader focuses on NYC:
I don't know much about compensation in the rest of the country but I do know about New York and its cops and firefighters. I grew up with them. My father (retired), both brothers, best friend from high school (retired on medical) are all FDNY. The (suburban) block I grew up on had 11 houses: 5 firemen and two cops. The significant other of the fireman who wrote in presented a version of things that doesn't really square with my experience.
The firefighters that I know are all hard working people who do or did a tough and nasty job. They've all seen very terrible things that generally do not intrude upon my workday. Bad, bad stuff. They are very well compensated for this. It's a good job. Some people like it and some don't. Whether or not its worth it to any particular person is up to that person but the line is long to get a spot and the pension is no small part of the draw.
Starting salary is modest, $39k base plus overtime (you're most likely in your early to mid 20s), but it steps up every year until full pay and is $76k base after 5 years (your most likely in your late 20s, maybe early 30s). That's about what I make now (early 40s, comfortable). Both my brothers make a good bit more. The fireman makes about $100k and the lieutenant closer to $125k. Not counting the side jobs. They can easily afford to live in my very nice middle-class Brooklyn neighborhood but have chosen, as my parents did, to live in very nice middle class suburbs. Not because they have to but because they like it there (kids, schools, etc).
They'll probably retire in their mid 40s not because they're broken men but because that's when they come due for their pensions. If you can take 50% of your total compensation (base + OT), exempt from state and local tax, and go do something else you'll be making more money even if you can make only about half of your current take home doing that something else (teacher; consultant, either security or fire safety; small business; trades). If you can take 75% (tax exempt) even better and not at all unusual. And that's what most of them do.
I'll skip the who deserves what nonsense. Very tough job, very well compensated. It's silly to deny either. I don't think the city can afford to continue to pay the civil service as well as it has. The city's share of paying the retirees costs as much as paying the active payroll. That's a little nuts. They've already made cuts but they can really only hit the new guys coming in. Big boat, slow turn.