- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2003

D.C. Fire Chief Adrian Thompson will make more than $158,000 a year under a law that raised the fire chief’s salary from the $130,000 made by his predecessor.

The legislation, proposed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams and unanimously passed by the D.C. Council in March, cited a need to adjust the salary to a level “comparable to that of the other subordinate agency heads” in the District.

Chicago’s fire commissioner makes $136,104. Baltimore’s fire chief earns $115,500.

And Chief Thompson’s raise pushes the 30-year veteran’s salary to almost $30,000 more than that of Philadelphia’s fire commissioner, who has over 30 years with that department, the past 11 as commissioner.

The Philadelphia department is the fifth-largest in the country, employing 25,000 firefighters. The D.C. department employs fewer than 2,000.

City Administrator John Koskinen announced a manpower review in response to reports that first appeared in The Washington Times last month detailing the proliferation of six-figure salaries in D.C. government.

Of the District’s 34,000 city employees, 575 make more than $100,000 a year. In comparison, 419 of Chicago’s 40,000 city workers and 33 of Baltimore’s 15,000 city workers earn that much.

The District has more workers earning $100,000-plus salaries than Chicago, a city with nearly 3 million residents, and Baltimore, a city similar in size to the District, with 651,000 residents. The District has 572,000 residents.

Under the legislation benefiting Chief Thompson, base pay for the fire chief is $132,395. Added to his salary is 20 percent of the base pay for departmentwide retention bonuses and longevity.

Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago pay their fire chiefs on a flat scale.

Chief Thompson said that as chief of operations under predecessor Ronnie Few, his salary was $136,000, including longevity pay. Chief Few made $130,000, and Chief Thompson’s raise puts his salary at 22 percent more than that.

Without the legislation, Chief Thompson said he would have lost money by being promoted.

“I would have had to take a pay cut,” he said, adding that he was “entitled to” keep the longevity pay.

Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said base pay should be the basis for comparison with other fire chiefs because the retention incentive applies to all firefighters. It is a means to encourage employees to stay on the job. A fire chief coming on the job from outside the District would have made the base pay, she said.

Mrs. Kellems said the city is not paying too much for its fire chief.

“We think that $158,000 is a reasonable figure for a fire chief in the District,” she said. “We’re not worried about comparing our salaries to other cities. What we’re worried about is ensuring our fire chief is being paid for the job he needs to do in Washington.”

Mrs. Kellems said there are special demands on the chief of the D.C. fire department, including a high-density downtown and the threat of terrorism.

Lt. Ray Sneed, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association, said the pay increase was prompted by a 16 percent increase his union negotiated on behalf of all uniformed members last year. The starting salary for a D.C. firefighter is about $39,000 a year.

He said the increase in firefighter pay was sought to recruit and retain quality employees, but that meant that salaries up the ranks had to be increased to keep pace.

D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson — Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the fire department — agreed with Lt. Sneed.

“There was, in fact, significant pay compression,” Mrs. Patterson said.

“Are we paying a senior member of the D.C. government too much? No,” she said of the salaries in general. “Are we getting what we paid for from each and every one of them? That would have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.”

When asked whether the District is paying too much for its fire chief, Mrs. Patterson said, “I don’t think we are,” given the increase in salaries for uniformed firefighters last year.

The legislation passed by the council also stipulates that when the fire chief, a Class 11 employee, has served for two years, his performance will be reviewed by the mayor.

At that time, the chief could be entitled to an increase in base pay to $140,000. With the added money for time served, Chief Thompson would make slightly more than $167,000.

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