Since the beginning of the year, Memphis Fire Fighters Association
(Local 1784) and fire union President Thomas Malone have seen an alarming number of employees leave to retirement and to work in other towns and cities.
"We're close to 100 people short," says Malone, who estimates there are currently 1,400 firefighters working in Memphis. He believes the city is already losing talent to places like Dallas, Austin, San Diego, Nashville and Aurora, Colo., all of which have sent representatives to Memphis to recruit fire and police personnel. Malone believes that the ongoing dispute between the union and the city over retirement and insurance benefits is negatively impacting the force's numbers.
Since January 1, 38 of the city's front line firefighters have quit and 50 more have retired, and the police department's numbers are even higher. Not being able to retain employees could be a costly situation for taxpayers and the city, as it costs between $100,000 and $300,000 in taxpayer dollars for training a new firefighter if one leaves after three years.
Normally there are more than 3,000 people that show up for annual MFFA orientation each July, but this year there were only about 500 in attendance, according to Malone.
"If you're a firefighter in Memphis, you're pretty well thought of around the country with the training you get and call volume we have here. Both fire and paramedics get a lot of experience," says Malone. "If they reduce this pension the way they are talking about, it would be mass exodus out of here."
By Michael Waddell