Albany Fire Department losing qualified employees due to pay, staffing issues

Albany Fire Department Capt. Charles Howe, vice president of the local firefighters union, addresses the Albany City Commission about issues he said are affecting morale.

ALBANY — Long hours and pay issues are among the factors driving qualified firefighters out of the Albany Fire Department, according to a veteran firefighter.

During remarks Tuesday to the Albany City Commission, Capt. Charles Howe said that a shortage of firefighters that sometimes means an employee working beyond a scheduled 24-hour shift is a problem he has heard from department employees.

Another is that, in some instances, a firefighter with decades of experience may find a relatively new hire making a larger salary.

“(Things like) that, the pay, the environment, when you add this stuff up, people move on,” said Howe, vice president of the recently formed Professional Fire Fighters of Albany union, who has two sons who also are firefighters. “Highly qualified people don’t have a problem finding jobs. Those are the people we want.”

The department has about 150 paid positions, of which about 115 are currently filled, Howe told commissioners. About 15 of those are relatively new hires.

The fire department covers the city and unincorporated Dougherty County.

Howe said he was not pointing fingers at the department’s administration.

“The fire chief can’t do anything about it,” Mayor Bo Dorough said of the pay disparity issue that can result in recently hired firefighters earring more than their veteran counterparts. “This is a policy that was set by the commission or a city manager” in the past.

The city is conducting a pay study to look at how wages compare between Albany and cities with which it competes for workers, the mayor said. The intent of the effort is to allow commissioners to set a pay scale that ensures Albany’s employees are compensated at a level comparable to other cities.

“I’m not blaming anyone for how we got here,” Howe said. “The bottom line is we’re there, and it needs to be addressed.”

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