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Firefighter Overtime Pay Is Almost $9 Million

Monday, December 27, 2010

 

The cost of overtime pay in the Providence Fire Department grew about $1 million over a two year period, approaching nearly $9 million in the last fiscal year. Other than salaries, overtime is the single largest payroll expense in the Fire Department, with the average firefighter making about $20,000 in overtime this year.

“When you have an $8 million budget for overtime, it certainly is a cause for concern,” Fire Chief George Farrell told GoLocalProv.

In 2008, overtime for firefighters cost $7.9 million, according to a WPRI-12 report. By 2010, it had jumped to $8.8 million, according to a GoLocalProv review of city payroll records.

Vacancies result in high overtime costs

A number of factors drive overtime costs—such as how many firefighters are out on sick leave, recovering from injuries, or taking a vacation. But one of the main reasons overtime is at a high is the large number of vacancies that have remained unfilled, according to Fire Department officials.

Not counting office and administrative positions, the city currently has about 390 active firefighters and roughly 35 to 40 vacancies, according to estimates Farrell provided to GoLocalProv. Although overtime costs are on the rise, Farrell said there is a “break point” where it is cheaper to have firefighters work overtime rather than hire a new firefighter. (Farrell is pictured at right.)

Paul Doughty, president of the Local 799 of the International Association of Firefighters, agreed. “The last two directors of administration—John Simmons and Rich Kerbel—they’ve made the conscious decision to de-staff the Fire Department in terms of employees because it’s cheaper to pay time and a half instead of base salary plus benefits,” Doughty said.

For a few, amount of overtime equals their salaries

As a result, the total pay of many firefighters is substantially higher than it otherwise would be. For example, the highest paid firefighter in terms of overtime was Battalion Chief Joseph R. Desmarais, who earned $77,781 in overtime—almost as much as his salary of $81,463. The second highest overtime pay went to Capt. Vincent D’Ambra. He pulled in $77,152 in overtime—more than his current salary of $64,405.

The average overtime pay was $21,000 and nearly 400 Fire Department employees earned at least $10,000 or more in overtime in 2010, according to city records.

Extra pay has its downsides

While some firefighters benefit from the extra pay, Doughty said all that extra work comes at a cost. “They’d welcome the extra pay, if they didn’t have to be ordered,” Doughty told GoLocalProv. “There’s frequently times when you’re ordered to stay when you don’t want to.”

That disrupts the personal lives of his members and takes time away from their families. “It’s not a great way to live and there’s no way to predict when it will happen,” he said.

When GoLocalProv asked Mayor-elect Angel Taveras’ office if the rising cost of overtime was a concern, a spokeswoman responded that the incoming administration would consider a range of ways to cut the budget. “Upon taking office, Mayor-elect Taveras will be looking at cost savings measures across the entire City budget,” said Melissa Withers, the incoming communications director. “Running a fiscally responsible administration is, and will remain, a top priority.”
 

 

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