HOUSTON — The Houston Fire Department has the third-largest firefighting force in the country, but by the numbers, their pay is not.
HFD is nearly doubled the Dallas Fire Department in staff. Houston had 4,119 firefighters in 2018, according to the city’s budget. Dallas employed 2,049.
However, pay favors DFD first-year firefighters. DFD pays beginners $60,000. HFD counterparts make roughly $42,000.
Chicago, a city similar in population size to Houston, employs just 2,579 full-time firefighters. Their pay starts at $74,502.
San Antonio is smaller. They have 1,840 firefighters. Still, their starting pay is higher than HFD. SAFD beginners make $52,164.
Austin’s 1,287-member department pays slightly more for first-year firefighters. They make $52,332.
Philadelphia, which has 2,567 firefighters, offers salaries starting at $52,873.
Editor's note: After we posted this article on 3/8, we were contacted and asked to give more context into firefighter pay. Below is additional context.
Twice in the last five years HFD firefighters received raise offers from the city. In 2014, (then) Mayor Annise Parker offered 3.5% pay increase. During his first year in office, Mayor Sylvester Turner offered 9.5% salary increases over three years.
The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association rejected both.
The two sides resumed negotiations for two months in 2017. However, they reached an impasse.
In an op-ed published in the Houston Chronicle last September, HPFFA President Marty Lancton said the “so-called” offers from the city came with “major workplace concessions, thousands of dollars of increased health insurance premiums per firefighter and continuing threats of firefighter layoffs and station closures.”
Last November, firefighters took the issue to voters in the form of Prop B.
Before voters approved it, Mayor Turner warned the measure would cause layoffs.
“They deserve a pay raised but I cannot pay what I do not have,” Mayor Turner said in September. “This is not about whether you like firefighters or not. This is an issue of what the city is capable of paying.”
Prop B guarantees HFD salary raises to give firefighters the same pay as police of similar rank and experience. HPD salaries begin at $49,917. That would give first-year HFD firefighters nearly $8,000 more a year.
How and when it happens is unsettled.
Even with Prop B raises, Houston firefighters will earn less base pay than counterparts in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Chicago and Philadelphia.
Firefighters By The Numbers
Data pulled for city budget data and city websites.
Houston Fire Department
Starting Salary: $42,000
San Antonio Fire Department
Starting Salary: $52,164
Dallas Fire Department
Starting Salary: $60,000
Austin Fire Department
Starting Salary: $52,332
Chicago Fire Department
Starting Salary: $74,502
Philadelphia Fire Department
Starting Salary: $52,873