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My job in Belgium: How much does a firefighter earn?
What is your job?
I have been working for the fire department for 18 years, 11 of which have been as a professional firefighter. Since the beginning of 2017 I became a sergeant, which means that I am responsible for the fire service crew working on my shift. During office hours, there are also officers on duty - they are a higher rank than me - but outside of them I manage the team of eight people. I work in the barracks of Kortrijk, and sometimes have a residency in the barracks of Menen and Waregem.
My job is extremely versatile and challenging. During callouts I take the lead: I decide which approach to take and who will do each task. Within the barracks I co-ordinate the maintenance of vehicles, respiratory protection and hoses, and I prepare exercise frameworks and training courses. I also have a lot of administrative work: I fill in reports, create schedules and divide the daily tasks.
Do you like your job?
Yes. I do it to help people. If, during a callout, I can ensure that everyone has come out safely and the damage has been limited, that really makes me feel good. I started as a volunteer, just like my father and I have been able to turn my hobby into my profession. I certainly did not do it for the money, because I already had a stable job. I just love being a firefighter. I want to continue doing this job as long as possible. However, that will become more difficult with age because it is a physically demanding profession.
What do you think of your income?
I am satisfied with my salary (€3,361 per month gross, €2,184 net plus a monthly premium of about €500, meal vouchers and hospitalisation insurance). It matches my experience and the work that I provide. As a firefighter you receive a premium of 38% per hour on top of your net salary, replacing the compensation allowance for night and weekend work and working on public holidays. We have to make sure that people are constantly available for callout. On top of that, I have a managerial job, therefore the responsibility, during risky callouts, falls on me.
How many hours a week do you work per week?
I work in a shift system of four teams in which everyone works according to a fixed pattern: two day-shifts, one day at home, two night-shifts, three days at home. Each shift lasts 12 hours, ie: from 7.00 to 19.00 or vice versa. That is why the number of working hours per week fluctuates enormously. For me personally, I have to work 1,640 hours annually. Fortunately, I do not have to keep track of these hours myself, that is done by a program.
Do you save?
Yes, I put something aside each month, both in a savings account with my wife and in the children's savings books. I'm also saving for my pension.
What is your biggest expense?
The payment for our house, we still have 15 years to go.
What can you definitely not spend money on?
Electronic items: they have to work well, but not cost too much. I really do not need a two-metre-wide television or an iPhone costing nearly €1,000. I also prefer not to spend too much on things that do not last long. If I give my children €10, then they would probably buy something that is broken and in the bin one month later. I would rather spend a few euros more to buy something of good quality for them.
What do you gladly spend money on?
Next week I am going on a weekend with friends. I am really looking forward to that and I will gladly spend money on it. I do not mind paying for a fun activity with my family, or friends. We occasionally go to Center Parcs or the Efteling with the family, and in the summer, we often go on holiday with the caravan. I prefer not to spend money on hotels provided there are nice activities to do in the area.
What would you do it you won the lottery?
You have to be careful with all that money. These amounts are so big that you have to be careful what you do with it because money can be deceptive. I would set aside a large amount and use some to renovate our home. Or go on a trip around the world. I might consider stopping work, but I don’t think I could. What would you do with your hands? On the days when I am not on duty, I never sit still. I am a real house-husband who helps a lot with the housework. But if I win a lot of money, I might get a housekeeper.