Brookfield trustees voted unanimously to approve a new three-year contract with union firefighters as part of the omnibus agenda at the village board’s May 22 meeting. The contract is retroactive to Jan. 1 and expires Dec. 31, 2025.
The contract was previously approved by members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4828, which represents the 21 union firefighter paramedics and lieutenants of the department. The department also employs a chief and three captains who are not part of the union.
The most significant update in the new contract is base-pay raises for union firefighters of 3.5% in the first year and 3% for the second and third years, reflecting an overall uptick in cost-of-living from previous years, where base-pay raises generally were below 3%.
However, the salary schedule includes annual step raises in addition to the base-pay raises for union firefighters early in their careers, which boost annual salaries higher.
For example, a new firefighter starting Jan. 1, 2023 at a base salary of $71,040 will, due to the annual step raise, be paid $78,183 in 2024, an increase of 10%. In the final year of the deal, that firefighter will make $89,087, representing a 24% total increase.
The step raises are arranged so that union firefighters will make $100,000 by their fifth year. The top salary for a rank-and-file firefighter in 2025 is $111,087.
Lieutenants also receive step raises after their first two years at that rank. A person promoted to lieutenant on Jan. 1, 2023 makes $114,134. In the third year of the contract, that lieutenant will make $127,751, a total increase in salary of 12%.
According to the village of Brookfield’s 2023 employee compensation list, 14 of the department’s union firefighters earn more than $100,000 in salary annually.
Other changes to the contract were relatively minor. There’s no change in the amount of health insurance premiums union employees must pay; it remains at 15%. The village did agree, however, to increase union employees’ term life insurance policy from $40,000 to $50,000.
However, there has been a change in the way the village reimburses union members for tuition if the firefighter chooses to take courses. First, the village manager must determine whether the courses provide a benefit to the fire department.
There’s also been a change in the amount to be reimbursed depending on the grade a union member receives in the course. No longer will the village reimburse 100% of tuition if the firefighters receives an A. The village previously also reimbursed 85% tuition for a B and 70% for a C.
Firefighters will now get 85% reimbursement for an A, 75% for a B and 50% for a C.
Those particular changes were sought by Village Manager Timothy Wiberg, who wanted to tighten up just what the village was paying for. In the past, he said, the village would reimburse for any course, regardless of its bearing on the employee’s duties as a firefighter.
“Now it’s for courses that are job-related,” Wiberg said.
Fire Chief James Adams said he sought and won a change in the contract language regarding union firefighters reimbursing the village for expenses if they leave the department within three years of being hired.
Previously, the firefighter leaving early was on the hook for repaying any paramedic or firefighter training. Moving forward anyone leaving before three years will also pay a pro-rated share – between 50% and 100% — of the cost for their personal protective gear.
Adams said protective coats and pants are tailormade for firefighters and cost about $4,000.
Since he took the reins of the department in 2020, Adams said he’s had two firefighters leave within three years of being hired and that there is a dearth of firefighting candidates lining up for jobs.
“I’m looking [to get ahead of the curve], if that’s going to be a trend,” Adams said.
Another change, also apparently related to firefighters changing departments more often nowadays, is dropping a requirement for all new firefighters to attend a fire academy.
With the new contract, firefighters who have already attended an accredited fire academy may not be required to attend again, at the discretion of the fire chief.
Adams said in the past few years he’s had one instance of a firefighter having to attend a fire academy despite not needing that training in his estimation.
“To me, that’s taking two or three months of time when I can have that guy on the street working,” Adams said.