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Officials push for increase in state firefighters' pay

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Imagine putting your life on the line by battling wildfires, but only earning a few bucks more per hour than minimum wage. That's the story for many state firefighters, and the state's agriculture commissioner wants to change that.

Gov. Rick Scott justified the pay raise veto earlier this year by saying that not just one group of state workers should be receiving a pay raise.

The average Florida teacher makes around $46,000, according to the Department of Education.

Jobs website Indeed.com says you're likely to make around $35,000 for an entry level job in Tampa or Jacksonville.

And way below all of that, you'd make around $27,000 as a state firefighter -- below average pay for an above average job, according Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam.

"Our firefighters are demonstrably underpaid relative to their peers in other southeastern states," Putnam said.

Putnam's pushing for a $2,000 pay raise for the state workers battling blazes.

A pay raise was already approved earlier this year by the Legislature, but it was eventually vetoed by the governor.

"They're certainly putting their lives on the line to protect property and other lives of Floridians, as we've seen out west this year and in Florida as recently as four years ago," Putnam said.

Fire officials said low pay forces a high turnover rate among state firefighters, which could be a safety problem.
"A seasoned firefighter is a safer firefighter," said Florida Forest Service Director Jim Karles. "The one with experience (is) the one with training, and when we rotate and have to bring in new firefighters day in and day out, it not only is more expensive for us, it adds that additional element of safety that we worry about."

More than 500 Florida state firefighters were deployed this year to battle wildfires in other parts of the country.