HPFFA president blames pension reform for firefighter flight

When we call, they come. That’s the deal. But the president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association says an increasing number of Houston firefighters are hearing the call from other departments and are jumping ship.

"They increasingly feel the city has abandoned them," Marty Lancton says.

He blames the pension reform enacted under Mayor Sylvester Turner.  Lancton says the deal was lower pay on the front end with a generous retirement package. The reform changed that and now it's getting harder to attract and retain young firefighters.

"It was about 175. While the normal attrition rate is 140. So for the first time in history we have more people leaving to go to other departments than we have retiring. Now that should cause alarm for everybody."

The mayor is painting a different picture. 

“Anyone including the firefighters that criticizes pension reform is doing a disservice to the people of Houston. Pension reform has worked,” Mayor Turner says.

Here are the numbers from the mayor's office. Total attrition in 2016 was 99 firefighters. In 2017, it was 229. In 2018, it has been 222.  Some of those losses are from retirements.

But look at the "other" category. "Other" means resigned, terminated or separated. In 2016 we lost 36 firefighters, in 2017 it was 69, and this year it's been 128.

The mayor says this is just a distraction. He says the union is really pushing for their referendum to get pay raises the city can't afford.

"It puts us right back in deep financial trouble that we were able to eliminate by pension reform," says the mayor.