Retired firefighters generally receive a higher percentage of their salary once they have retired than people in many other professions, but typically do not receive health care insurance coverage. Unlike most American employees, they are not eligible to collect Social Security benefits.
Cities and counties do not pay the standard 6 percent payroll tax for Social Security in relation to their firefighter employees. It is for this reason that most firefighter unions have negotiated higher retirement benefits. Another reason firefighters' retirement pay is higher than the average civil servant's is that they work a 56-hour week, which amounts to 40 percent more hours than the average worker puts in. They also respond to emergencies during weekends and holidays.
Yet another reason firefighters command higher than usual retirement pay is that their life expectancies are shorter than those of people in many other professions and vocations. Their job comes with serious risks to health and safety as well as considerable mental and emotional stress.
Firefighters contribute more to their retirement than other public or even private sector employees, which the average being 8 to 16 percent of their salary. When a firefighter retiree dies, his retirement contribution and earned interest are returned to the system to help cover the costs of other retirees' benefits. This differs from private sector 401k plans, in which the retiree's family retains all retirement contributions and earned interest.