Rio Rancho firefighters are getting a pay raise and incentives to stay with the department longer under a new collective bargaining agreement.
Representatives of the Rio Rancho Firefighters Association-IAFF Local 4877 and the City of Rio Rancho negotiated the agreement from March through October.
Union members voted 72-1 in favor of the agreement. The union represents Rio Rancho Fire Rescue Department members with the rank of captain or lower.
“We genuinely think the contract that we got is very beneficial to us, and it definitely puts us in the right area to be competitive in the local area,” said union President Chris Mandeville.
Emergency-response departments in the Albuquerque Metro Area compete with each other for personnel.
The Rio Rancho Governing Body unanimously approved the agreement Dec. 11. It becomes effective Monday and runs for four years.
Under the agreement, Deputy Fire Chief James DeFillippo said, all firefighters get a 4 percent pay raise, except captains, who get 2 percent more, and paramedics, who get a 9 percent increase. Paramedics are the hardest to recruit and retain, he said, so the higher pay raise is meant to encourage them to come to and stay with the department.
Paramedics get the incentive as long as they’re in a position that responds to calls and provides emergency medical treatment regularly.
Once they become engineers, who drive the firetrucks, or captains, who work as supervisors and administrators, they no longer get the incentive. However, the pay is still higher for those positions, DeFillippo said.
For the first time, the contract also includes longevity pay.
“The goad of longevity is to retain some of our senior, highly trained personnel,” he said.
Union members within five years of being eligible for retirement and who have been with Rio Rancho Fire Rescue for at least 15 years can get $200-$500 a month extra. A higher stipend comes with more time with the department.
“It’s not to deter them from retiring, but it does reward them for staying here a little bit longer,” DeFillippo said.
He said other fire departments give longevity pay, and local firefighters gave good feedback about the idea.
Also under the agreement, Fire Marshal’s Office members get an hour of compensatory time for every day they’re on call, up from one hour per pay period. That office has someone on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“They’re the only ones in the department on an on-call basis,” DeFillippo said.
The contract also creates four new positions to form a crew to provide scheduled, non-emergency medical transportation. That service has been under development for months, and is meant to provide a needed service without impacting firefighters’ ability to respond to emergencies.
With the department’s Fit for Duty Assessment Program, the agreement says the city will pay for a 12-week program in which members who need improvement in physical fitness can work with a peer fitness trainer and nutritionist. Previously, DeFillippo said, members paid for the first six weeks and then, if the participant showed improvement, the city funded the rest.
Having the city pay for the whole program encourages firefighters to participate and improve their condition faster, he said. DeFillippo said the department has had “extraordinary luck” with the program over the past year.
Also under the new contract, union members are given up to two hours a year for voluntary meetings with contracted mental-health providers to help them cope with traumatic things they see on the job.
In addition, the contract raises “chief’s overtime” pay from $33.50 to $45 or time and a half, whichever is higher. DeFillippo said that rate is the same as what Rio Rancho Police Department has instituted for its officers.
Chief’s Overtime comes when an outside entity contracts with the city to have fire department members stand by at an event. The outside entity pays for the overtime.
Finally, the agreement gives members in administrative positions paid holidays, which they didn’t have before, and provides 24 more weeks of job-protected leave for firefighters injured at work. Previously, injured members had 12 weeks granted under the Family and Medical Leave Act.