Value Penguin used data provided by local cities and agencies to rank over 300 cities and areas across America. Factors like median annual pay, cost of living and the number of jobs available played into the results.
According to the survey there are 308,790 people employed as firefighters in 322 cities or what the U.S. Census calls Metropolitan Statistical Areas. The Cape-Fort Myers MSA includes most of the 18 independent fire districts in the county as well as the two city departments.
J.P. Duncan, president of Local 1826 Southwest Florida Professional Firefighters and Paramedics, said this is a good place to live and to work, but the 21 firefighters laid off in May by the city of Fort Myers might disagree.
Those workers were laid off when a federal grant paying their salaries ran out. The 2012 SAFER grant (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) totaled $3.8 million. It was designed to save local services during the economic downturn, and ran out in April.
Duncan says the city could have used the revenue from a new annual fire service fee, just over $100 per property owner, could have saved the jobs.
Estero Fire Chief Scott Vanderbrook said he agrees this area is a good one in which to work and live.
“We are the best fire department in southwest Florida,” he said.
The independent Estero district employs 54 certified firefighters. The starting wage is $14.49 an hour or about $42,000 a year.
“I think we are a great place to live and to work,” Vanderbrook said. “That ranking sounds about right to me.”
Florida fares well in the comparison, with Port St. Lucie, West Palm Beach and Miami sweeping the top three spots. North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota comes in at 25 and the Naples-Marco Island area at 28.
The research showed the 1,150 firefighter jobs in Cape Coral-Fort Myers pay an average salary of $52,360. Our cost of living was higher than in every city except for two major California areas, Santa Barbara and San Francisco.
A measure Value Penguin calls “Location Quotient” also placed Cape-Fort Myers high. Location quotient is a measure of the percentage of firefighter jobs compared to total jobs, with a higher number pointing to a greater demand for those jobs. We ranked higher than every city except Leominster-Fitchburg-Gardner MSA in Massachusetts, which ranked 20th overall.
The matrix produced numeric scores for the 30 cities. Naples-Marco ranks higher in average wage at $56,060, and the cost of living actually ranked lower than Cape-Fort Myers, but there are only 420 firefighter jobs available.
The best money can be found in San Francisco, where the 3,040 firefighter jobs at San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City make an average annual wage of $87,480. The second-highest cost of living in the survey drove the city ranking down to 15th.