(Chicago Tribune illustration)

Chicago firefighters have approved a new five-year contract with the city that includes 11 percent raises, the firefighters' union president said today.

Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 President Thomas Ryan said about 91 percent of the members who returned their ballots by today's deadline voted in favor of the pact.

"I think it's a fair contract and it's a great contract for the people of Chicago because it allows us to continue doing the things we need to do to be the best fire department in the country," Ryan said.

The contract and part of the pay increases are retroactive to July 2012, when the last deal lapsed. Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration has not said how the city will pay for the raises.

But in a statement Emanuel called the contract a "win-win' for taxpayers and firefighters/paramedics.

"We've worked collaboratively with the Firefighters union to reach this agreement that is both fiscally responsible on behalf of taxpayers and respects the work and sacrifice of the men and women who put their own lives on the line to ensure public safety," Emanuel said in a statement.

In addition to the raises, the contract calls for the conversion of 15 basic life support ambulances to advanced life support, a change the mayor supported. The advanced ambulances are staffed by paramedics and have better medication and lifesaving equipment, Ryan said. The city will also hire between 100 and 200 new paramedics to staff the new ambulances, he said.

The City Council still must approve the contract.

2010 police and fire contracts forced Mayor Richard Daley's administration to come up with about $160 million to cover back pay increases for police dating to July 2007, and more than $80 million more for retroactive raises for rank-and-file firefighters and paramedics. The city borrowed the money and added to its high debt level.

The Emanuel administration has not had formal talks with the Firefighters union about the pension law that will require the city to come up with $600 million at the end of this year to help shore up underfunded police and fire pensions, Ryan said. "We're willing to come to the table to be part of the discussion," Ryan said of the pension situation. 

jebyrne@tribune.com