CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – The Charleston Firefighters Association – Local 61 is speaking out against a discrepancy in firefighters’ pay and the city’s cost of living.

According to the Charleston Firefighters Association, over 53% of the city’s firefighters make $17 or less. The association said the City of Charleston’s livability wage is $16.65-$17.26.

Starting on January 28th, entry-level firefighters in the city will make $12.88 an hour.

John Baker with the Charleston Firefighters Association said many city firefighters can’t afford to live in Charleston.

“There are a lot of firefighters for the City of Charleston that live on the outskirts of town. Whether that’s Summerville, Moncks Corner, as far as Bowman, Barnwell and making that commute in because it’s just not a livable wage at what they’re making,” explained Baker.

It’s an issue Charleston Fire Chief Dan Curia said he is aware of. He said there have been discussions at the city level.

“It’s a question of, do we do a pay study to make sure our firefighters remain competitive in the market? And if we do that, where does the city want to fall in the market?” explained Curia. “Of course, factoring the housing costs of Charleston.”

Another challenge the department is facing is dozens of vacancies, which Baker said is due in part to the pay issues. Chief Curia said there are 42 open positions.

He said it is less of a recruitment issue and more of a retention issue.

William J. Pesature, the Vice President of the Professional Firefighters Association of South Carolina, said the cycle of losing and hiring new employees can have costly consequences.

“The amount of money going into training people to leave to go somewhere else is phenomenal,” said Pesature. “The amount of money that’s paid for someone to get bunker gear cost $3,000 a set. Generally, you get two sets.”

Baker said the ultimate goal in working towards change is to keep the community safe.