Why do so many Vancouver firefighters make six figures? And other questions raised by city salaries

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      Late last night (September 15) the folks at CityHallWatch were kind enough to provide me with a dataset detailing the salaries of everyone (I think) employed by the City of Vancouver through 2013.

      From Aanestad to Zupan, there are more than 7,500 names on this list.

      The information was obtained through a freedom of information request that reportedly took nine months and the intervention of the province’s privacy commissioner to complete.

      Three positions with the City of Vancouver paid between $300,000 and $350,000 in 2013. Those were fire chief (John McKearney), city manager (Penny Ballem), and director of legal services and solicitor general (Francie Connel). The FOI response excludes information related to the police department, but chief Jim Chu’s salary also falls within this bracket.

      Positions four and five on the list obtained by CityHallWatch are held by Patrice Impey, general manager of financial services, and Sadhu Johnston, deputy city manager. They were paid $271,708 and $263,329, respectively.

      Another seven city employees were paid between $200,000 and $300,000. Most of those titles included the phrase “general manager”. They were general managers of financial services, planning and development, engineering services, parks and recreation, community services, real estate and facilities, and human resources. The deputy city manager and the director of transportation also took home earnings exceeding $200,000.

      Going down the line now, there were 49 employees who earned between $150,000 and $200,000, and 510 employees paid between $100,000 and $150,000.

      Additional observations from a very quick skim of this data:

      For a mid-sized city, Vancouver spends quite a bit on communications. More than $2.2 million went to spin doctors in 2013. You can read more about that here.

      They don’t make a lot, but it was still interesting to learn that the city employs 13 “miniature railway conductors”. (The majority earned less than $30,000.)

      I’m going to raise the possibly unpopular suggestion that we pay too many firefighters a little too much. In 2013, Vancouver’s fire chief, John McKearney, was the highest-paid employee in the city. His salary was $347,762 (that number was inflated by changes to earned time benefits and is expected to decrease in 2014). Working under him, I counted roughly (I was counting very quickly) 125 firefighters that took home six figures in 2013.

      It’s no surprise, but city hall spends a ton on lawyers. More than 20 people holding the title of solicitor were paid more than $150,000.

      The city spends quite a bit on tree pruning. Ten tree pruners earned more than $60,000 in 2013. Another eight were paid between $50,000 and $60,000.

      Finally, there are quite a few conspicuous disparities between salaries that went to people holding very similar positions. When these documents inevitably find their way to the public, they’ll likely make for interesting chatter at 12th and Cambie.



      Sharon Best

      Sep 16, 2014 at 5:50pm

      Firefighters are paid too much?
      Are they being paid overtime?
      Are they being paid for paramedical qualifications?
      There are a lot more police officers in Vancouver earning more than 100K than there are firefighters earning that amount.
      I would suggest to you that looking at total salary plus benefits can be somewhat misleading.
      Very disappointed with the article.
      I am more concerned with the pay of politicians in Vancouver.
      What kind of pay raises have they had?

      Tell you what...

      Sep 16, 2014 at 6:15pm

      Next time there is a burning building hop on in there with full gear and risk YOUR ass to save people and the structure. Next time someone decides to take a header off the Lion's Gate or drive their car into a pole you be the first one on the scene and start dealing with images that no one should have to deal with.

      Sitting behind a desk writing drivel all day may or may not pay the same but you have a far lower risk of dying on the job or suffering from PTSD.


      Sep 16, 2014 at 6:29pm

      A key thing here would be comparisons. Same job, different municipalities in Metro Vancouver. Would be interesting to compare.


      Sep 16, 2014 at 6:43pm

      Sharon, Firefighting departments are welfare for failed high school athletes. Many run businesses on the side they have so little to do because modern buildings rarely catch fire and if they do, have fire alarms/suppressants that are enough that firefighters simply allow empty buildings to burn down. They get in paramedics(and everyone elses)way responding to medical incidents they are unqualified to help at. There are far too many of them,costing a huge amount of money and when insurance companies finally figure that out and stop charging for a lack of firefighters, the money will be better spent


      Sep 16, 2014 at 7:18pm

      Failed attempt at satire?

      @Tell you what...

      Sep 16, 2014 at 7:56pm

      The problem with your argument is that if firefighting causes these problems, money doesn't fix them. It's not like paying someone a larger amount of money will reduce the incidence of PTSD. AFAIK most people with the "do gooder" mentality are not rushing into burning buildings because it pays well: they're doing it because rightly or wrongly they believe in doing that sort of thing. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.


      Sep 16, 2014 at 8:03pm

      Why, after glancing over the salaries paid to a nepotistic den of white collar "managers", would you possibly think to single out firefighters as the ones who are being overcompensated? Firefighters are critical to the city in a way that no politician could ever be, and put more on the line for it every day.

      Save Vancouver

      Sep 16, 2014 at 8:22pm

      Vision Vancouver had padded the rolls of spinmeisters greatly. I suppose more people are needed to pull Gregor's strings.


      Sep 16, 2014 at 10:23pm

      Why does no one ever complain or raise the salaries that sports players make. They make millions. I'm not against that, what I am against is time and time again is poorly paid journalists seem to have a problem with city officials, politicians, ceo's, executives making over 100,000 a year.

      But no one EVER mentions athletes. Why Not? They have the most ridiculously over payed salaries of them all. And really what do they contribute ? They throw a ball around or hit a puck with a stick.

      I think journalists are just mad that they have the shittiest paying salary of all careers.


      Sep 17, 2014 at 5:34am

      Vancouver needs to reign in wages this is unsustainable - 6 figures for police or fire is NOT acceptable......not managed properly Vancouver could become another bankrupt Detroit, how much taxes do you think Vancouverites can pay? Holding the line on wage increases and some bloody austerity in City spending would be nice to see, everyone else from Federal to Provincial reigned in spending but cities like Vancouver keep at the trough.