Second Jobs Help Southaven, Mississippi Firefighters Make Ends Meet

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. (AP) -- On duty firefighters must be prepared to respond to fires and other emergency calls, but when off duty many local blaze battlers burn their free time in a different way.

Casey Walker, a firefighter with the city of Hernando for seven years, works a second job because he like's the atmosphere and that it was his first job. Walker, 41, has worked at Funderburks since he was 13-years-old. He has kept his janitorial-like job at Funderburk's Pharmacy in Hernando because he likes the people and it's stress free environment.

``It's not the pay,'' he said. ``I just enjoy the job. I could get a second job and make five to six hundred dollars but I don't want to do that.''

Nine out of 10 guys Walker works with have second jobs, he said, mostly in lawn care and construction. While a firefighter's schedule allows for a second job, many opt to moonlight because of their financial demands, he said.

Rickey Barnett, fire truck driver with Fire Station No. 1 in Southaven, said his schedule allows him to moonlight as a tanning bed salesman.

``I'm actually a little more than a salesperson,'' Barnett joked, adding he owns three local Sunsations Inc. stores. The tanning salon and sales stores keeps him extremely busy when he's not at the fire house, Barnett said.

``When I'm not working as a firefighter I'm running from one store to the next fixing what needs to be fixed and doing whatever else needs to be done,'' Barnett said. ``It can be stressful but not as stressful as the first five minutes of fighting a fire.''

So why does Barnett work two ``stressful'' jobs giving himself virtually no off days each week?

``I love being a firefighter,'' he said. ``Owning the tanning stores just makes it a little easier to make ends meet.''

Barnett isn't the only DeSoto County firefighter moonlighting to help pay the bills. ``Everyone here has to work a second job,'' Barnett said. ``Everyone on our shift has a second job, it's necessary to live especially if you have a family.''

Some DeSoto County firefighters, like many of their counterparts across the country, work second jobs in an effort to better provide for their families, said Jim McBride, public relations specialists for the International Association of Firefighters.

The IAFF, an international union for professional firefighters, provides its 263,000 members with resources like forensic accountants to ensure they are receiving adequate compensation and benefits packages. But unlike firefighters in Memphis, where annual compensation is nearly 20 percent higher, DeSoto County firefighters are not IAFF members, McBride said, adding salary dissimilarities can also be attributed to differences in the city budgets in DeSoto County versus Memphis.

``I know I'm not going to make as much as guys in Memphis,'' Barnett said. ``I want to be in Southaven, I love this city and I love working here.''

In Horn Lake, Jason McKenzie, fire truck driver with Fire Station No. 1, moonlights for a local voice and data communications company. Despite being strapped for cash sometimes, McKenzie said he wouldn't want to do anything other than be a firefighter.

``I love my job, being a firefighter is what I want to do above anything else, but with a family I had to find some way to make extra money,'' he said. ``It's not a very interesting (second) job but the money helps me to make ends meet.''

The father of two said he and his wife decided it would be less of a financial strain for him to work two jobs while she cared for their children at home. ``It's not beneficial for my wife to work with the cost of day care,'' he said.

Although working a second job helps McKenzie balance his checkbook, finding an employer willing to hire a guy with such a demanding day job proved problematic.

``It's hard to find a second job because of our hours,'' McKenzie said. ``It's hard to find someone who will work around the schedule here.''

Firefighters typically work approximately nine to 10, 24-hour shifts each month. In Horn Lake and Southaven, that translates to about three days off weekly, but many firefighters work more demanding schedules depending on department needs.

``Most of them have schedules that allows time for a part time job or whatever odd jobs they can pick up,'' said Horn Lake Fire Department Chief David Linville. ``It's pretty common in the department but doesn't interfere with their ability to do their jobs here.''