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John Szerlag
John Szerlag

A promotion is usually accompanied by a bump in pay, but that’s not always the case in the Cape Coral Fire Department.

Outgoing fire Chief Bill Van Helden said Monday during contract negotiations between the city and fire union that a lieutenant recently promoted to battalion chief actually received a pay cut. Division chief Jim Heikkila said the decrease amounted to $600 a year.

Van Helden has said the city regularly struggles to fill the battalion chief positions in part because they aren’t eligible for some types of incentive pay, which includes pay for extra qualifications such as paramedic and dive training.

“I’ve seen some of the best potential people we have come back and say, ‘You know what, chief, no thanks,’” he said during a contract negotiation session last month.

On Monday, City Manager John Szerlag proposed finding a quick fix to the problem.

“As a manager, it would be good to be able to pay people that are doing more work ... more money,” Szerlag said.

The city and union agreed to form a committee to seek a temporary solution until a permanent one can be hashed out during later negotiations, when other options will be up for debate.

Heikkila said the city’s 12 battalion chiefs are often tasked with significantly more responsibility than lieutenants, managing three to four fire stations, compared to one.

He said the city will also have trouble filling a division chief position that opened up when Tom Tomich retired in September. The two division chiefs, which are one step below fire chief, receive no extra pay or overtime.

Battalion chief salaries range from $59,758 to $87,509, while lieutenant salaries range from $66,094 to $75,903.

Extra pay, however, has created conditions where one lieutenant made $97,589 last year, $21,341 more than the lowest-paid battalion chief. Several battalion chiefs also earned close to, or slightly more than, the salaries of both division chiefs.

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