Saint John firefighters earn thousands of dollars more than other firefighters in the province, newly-released figures show.

Fire Chief Kevin Clifford is defending his firefighters' salaries, saying they face unique risks, including a large stock of old housing and several heavy industries.

"Seventy-six per cent of our fires are either in a high-hazard occupancy or a high-hazard industry," he said. "That's unique to Saint John and nobody else in New Brunswick would have that dynamic."

But the salary discrepancy has a city councillor questioning whether regionalizing emergency services could help reduce costs.

nb-greg-norton

Saint John Coun. Greg Norton says reginalizing services could reduce duplication and save money. (CBC)

"Maybe it's in the taxpayers' best interest to provide protective services on a more regional basis," said Coun. Greg Norton.

A full-time firefighter in Saint John starts at $63,854, according to salary figures posted online by the city last week.

By comparison, a full-time firefighter in Fredericton takes home $49,352, as of Jan. 1, 2011.

The gap narrows slightly once they've been on the job for three or four years and reach the first class firefighter designation.

In Saint John, they earn $75,123, the latest figures show. Meanwhile, Fredericton firefighters with the same amount of experience make $68,071, Moncton firefighters, $67,000, and firefighters in the neighbouring Kennebecasis Valley, $66,400.

And Saint John firefighters will soon be earning even more after an arbitration board ruled in November they should get a 12 per cent raise over four years.

"How many chiefs do you need?" asked Norton. "How many deputies do you need? How many sets of administration positions do you need? Is there a chance to build some efficiency into it and reduce the duplication that we might have?"

The fire chief says he's not opposed to the idea of regionalization, but says the decision is much bigger than just him.

"There's a whole lot of neighbours that are part of that discussion and it's beyond my scope or I think even our council's scope alone. It would have to be a collective decision."

He stressed, however, that Halifax and St. John's, NL, are more accurate comparisons than other New Brunswick communities because they face similar risks.

A first class firefighter in Halifax will earn $81,000 as of October, while a first class firefighter in St. John's gets $72,272.