“You call us heroes but we are on starvation wages,” anther proclaimed.
Several hundred firefighters participated in Thursday's peaceful protest outside Palazzo Montecitorio, the seat of Italy's Chamber of Deputies.
Representatives came from all over the country, waving banners with the name of their region as well as slogans protesting their government salaries and pension plans.
“Italian citizens need to know that a firefighter who has been in service for 25 years gets €1,400 per month,” said Riccardo Boriassi, National Secretary of Conapo, the firefighters' union which organized the protest.
“Police officers, who are already underpaid, earn €300 more each month,” he added, explaining that in other government bodies, monthly wages were as much as €800 more than firefighters'. “We aren't asking for privileges, but equality with other government bodies.”
The pay gap is ostensibly because firefighters are not classified as part of the national security sector, despite the dangerous nature of their work.
After an avalanche in an Abruzzo hotel this January, officers worked 14-hour shifts in extreme weather conditions for a full week, not stopping until all 29 bodies had been recovered from the rubble. Eleven survivors were pulled alive from the rubble.
The avalanche came after several weeks of extreme weather and unusually heavy snowfall, and followed a series of earthquakes which have rocked the central Italian regions since last August. Italy's firefighters have been praised as heroes by media and politicians for their work in the area, and last month were crowned the best in the world at a competition known as 'the firefighting Oscars'.
Thursday's demonstration followed a protest in Bari, southern Italy, on Wednesday, which was organized by the USB (Basic Trade Union). Union representatives called on the government to increase staff numbers in the fire serve to ensure both that teams are able to reach the public quickly and that rescuers are not put at risk by staff shortages.
Firefighters also complained that many staff are not on full-time contracts and so suffer from “precarious” working conditions and few benefits.
In leaflets distributed at the event, USB criticized the government “for having given €20 billion to strengthen the private banking system, and save it from bankruptcy, while citizens and temporary workers are on the streets begging”.