Durham firefighters demand higher wages as many are forced to work second jobs

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Zack Griffith served as a firefighter in Durham for four years.

“It’s the greatest job in the world to serve the community that you’re a part of,” Griffith said.

While he said he loved serving his city, he didn’t make enough money to get by. He said he was forced to take a second job as a CrossFit coach and a third job as a trainer.

“You can’t live paycheck to paycheck and have goals of having a family and getting married, so I had to take a second job,” Griffith said.

This week Griffith left the Durham Fire Department and took a job as a firefighter in Virginia where he is now making $15,000 more a year.

“That’s pretty much what I was making in my part-time job too, so combine the two together, and now I don’t even need a part-time job,” Griffith said.

The starting pay for Durham firefighters is $35,592 a year. Other cities like Fayetteville ($37,000), Chapel Hill ($37,128), and Raleigh ($38,058) start their firefighters out at a little bit higher wages per year.

But Fuquay-Varina ($41,045), Apex ($43,902), and Cary ($46,113) start their firefighters out at wages that are $6,000 to $11,000 more per year than Durham.

This week, community member Rebecca Ponce De Leon started an online petition asking that the city of Durham approve higher wages for Durham firefighters.

“It’s an absolute disgrace that firefighters are forced to work second and third jobs just to make ends meet,” Ponce De Leon said. “I started the petition because I knew others would feel as I did if they were aware of the issue.”

So far more than 3,200 people have signed the online petition and Ponce De Leon said they have a goal of 5,000 signatures.

“I’m overwhelmed and encouraged by the response to the petition and hope it moves the City to reevaluate firefighters’ pay,” Ponce De Leon said.

Even though Griffith is no longer with the Durham Fire Department, he said that he wants to raise awareness about the need to increase firefighter pay in Durham.

“I don’t think the department is asking to be above anyone else, they’re just being asked to be put on the same field as everyone else,” Griffith said.

The Professional Firefighters of Durham told CBS 17 they do not have a comment on the petition right now.

Durham City officials told CBS 17 that they are reviewing their salary structures to make sure all city employees are paid competitively.

CBS 17 reached out to the Durham Fire Department to find out if concerns about pay have led to an increase in vacancies, but fire officials said that they currently only have two openings, and they have 17 to 18 firefighters in training.

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