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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

An Early Father’s Day gift for fathers risking their lives

By Richard Gutiérrez

Special to The Star

- Senate approves salary raise for Firefighters -

The Senate passed on June 15 Senate Bill 1065, authored by Ramón Ruiz Nieves, to establish the “Special Law of Firefighters Basic Pay” that would provide a $375 increase to the basic monthly salary of firefighters, which starts at $2,500.

The goal is to retain and to provide a justifiable salary to firefighters, Ruiz Nieves said.

“What we are trying to do with this measure is to put firefighters at the standard they deserve so that we can stop them from moving on to other jurisdictions because these are high-risk professions, so we need to make changes to provide a competitive salary,” he said.

On the other hand, the New Progressive Party lawmaker said, “having cleared this up and identified it within the Budget Resolution, it seems there are no setbacks regarding the approval of this budget… With that said, we hear by declaring that we are in favor of the bill, me and all members of the NPP party.”

The Star had the opportunity to speak to some of the members of the Fire Department and ask them about their thoughts regarding this new legislation. The individuals will remain anonymous within this report.

One of the department members shared what it’s like to be a father while being a firefighter. “We may have eight hours registered in our schedule, but we don’t have a time to clock out; we simply have a time to clock in; if something happens during our time to clock out, we have to go and act immediately. It doesn’t matter if it’s time to get out, people must be saved, so nobody at home can count on you coming home early for family gatherings. Sometimes we even have to miss our kid’s birthdays because we have lives to save,” the firefighter said.

“Our shifts are also constantly changing, so we can never be sure we’ll be there for graduations, birthday parties or soccer games; this increase in our salary really feels like a gift because it makes us feel like all of our hard work is being recognized,” said the firefighter to the Star.

The Star also interviewed Puerto Rico Firefighter’s Academy members, who will soon set off to become the next ones in the line of fire. “A firefighter is not just somebody who’s just playing domino all day and doing nothing, just waiting to be called. Firefighters need to check the trucks so that they are in top condition, the gas, oil, check that the truck is in one piece and does not have any damage, checking that all tools are in place, amongst many other things,” the academy member said.

The young man also shared that while the pay is motivating, being a firefighter is much more than a paycheck. “Being a firefighter means that you should have values and a good sense of morality. Once you have the symbol on your shirt, you have a moral obligation to the community. You are serving your country as soon as you have the symbol on your shirt. The incentive is a great way to motivate people who are outside of the department and want to be part of it. It also helps our daily lives, considering the cost of living in Puerto Rico is so high,” he said.

Besides the fact that many fathers in Puerto Rico and worldwide are firefighters risking their lives constantly, at any hour, missing their kid’s ballet recital, there are plenty of other issues surrounding the force that this will attend. Another member of the fire department shared the difficulties of being a firefighter, and how beneficial this incentive will be for the department’s future.

“In all of the United States, including its territories, the Puerto Rico Firefighters Bureau has the lowest salary in comparison to all other states, we live on a tropical island, and considering the amount of heat we are currently receiving, fires are not going to be uncommon. Due to the way the land is distributed, fires can happen at any time. This raise in salary is very welcomed, not only taking into consideration the recent heat strokes but in general being a firefighter is a challenging career,” said one of the firefighters to the Star.

The work of a firefighter requires a lot of physical energy and strength, and cadets have to be in shape to manage risky situations and act quickly in complex and high-risk situations. This individual also shared “that the island needs more firefighters because of the number of fires that occur and that compared to many states, the number of fires that occur in Puerto Rico exceeds that in multiple states. Therefore the salary raise is very welcomed and will encourage young people to consider joining the fire department”.

The individual also told the Star that in addition to the high demand, the island needs more members in the force because the academies that entered the force in 1988 are nearing retirement. “A lot of our members are over the age of 55 and have not been able to retire because of the lack of personnel and 32% of these employees will be leaving soon. In these economic times, we require a more substantial compensation to head to our retirement with a pension that is worthy of the years we served Puerto Rico,” the individual said.

While the force members are very grateful for this raise, the firefighter who spoke with the Star also shared that salaries need to be reclassified. The last salary reclassification was in 1998, when Governor Pedro Rossello was still in office. “I urge the government to continue providing ways of recruiting more firefighters because retirement is coming at a steady pace. The next step should be to increase the number of supervisors in different areas. We need this endorsement from the Senate, as they have already done, and the Governor’s support. The process of making the fire department better needs to continue”.

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Rose Rose
Rose Rose
Jun 19, 2023

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