Buffalo, N.Y. has 22 new firefighters ready for duty, manpower and Overtime still major issues

 In a Buffalo News article, management issues and manpower are front and center. The Mayor of Buffalo demoted Fire Commissioner Michael S. Lombardo earlier this year, blaming high overtime as one reason why he opted to find someone else to head the department. There has been an ongoing dispute about overtime and a connection to increased sick time use.

 

 The BFD Management claims manpower is the cause and some believe it could also be related to "Pension Padding". Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating the possible connections in a number of NY Departments.

 

 Officials hope that the 22 new hires will help ease the sky rocketing overtime of the past few years. As of the fiscal year that ended last June, the city shattered a record  paying $9.4 million for overtime in firehouses. In the current fiscal year, overtime costs are hovering around $7.6 million.

 

 The Mayor and the Fire Departments Union are in the process of trying to negotiate a new contract. FF's have worked several years without a completed contract.

 

 The Mayor named a new Commissioner and a Deputy saying the Department needs new direction. FF's who conyinue to provide uninterupted services are hopeful and more than willing to help negotiate a fair contract.

 

To read the entire article click here

 

Another related article: Overtime really adds up for city police, firemen

 Ecerpt from the above linked article:

 

  Last year, thanks in part to overtime, more than 100 police and firefighters earned more than $100,000. Among them is a police officer who made almost $190,000 and a firefighter who earned more than $174,000. Both received more than $100,000 in overtime.

   

This in a city the U.S. Census Bureau says is the second poorest in the nation.

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What lacks here, and in most related type of articles, is that the cost of OT is also cheaper than paying for additional staffing. This was the contention for several such BFD related articles and the union stated they needed more personnel to curb the OT cost. I'm sure the 22 may help, but I'm sure the 22 new FF's doesn't make up for the gap in staffing.
Isn't that sort of the catch 22 - If the City is being drained by OT - how do they hire more employees. Which came first the chicken or the egg?
John is correct. OT budgets are cheaper than hiring 100 guys. You see The City of Buffalo just took on 22 more employees, that require health care, dental, holidays, vacation time, sick time, workmenas compensation, plus the retirement benefit package that will need to be funded weekly. Plus these 22 once fully trained will collect overtime as well. 22 guys are not going to make much of a dent in a manpower deficient, 7.6 million dollar overtime budget. Now a smaller workforce covering the openings with OT, has less overhead as it is already paid for in his weekly salary, except for the additional contribution to his retirement because of the higher weekly gross pay.

What has happened is some bean counter is upset that some fireman (you know, us non-educated bottom of the barrell fireman) made $174,000 last year. Hey bean counter, it wasn't F-N given to him. Now take your calculator and add up the number of hours it takes to accrue $100,000 worth of OT on a 74K salary.

Don't bother, they guy worked a ton of hours for the entire year, which included holidays. At what cost? Go ask his wife or kids.... probably not married anymore either.
So are you saying they should just keep the Department under staffed? Thats what is supposedly causing the high overtime!

You also ignored the life time tax cost of inflated pensions.

You actually sounded defensive - yet provided no solution. Pointing fingers at Admin isn't solving the problem.
Rick,

No what I am saying is the media love to sensationalize the numbers to sell the story. Who cares if it was 50K, 100K or 174K a year. What I was saying was the guy actually worked all those hours to earn the money, it wasn't given to him like winning the lottery. He earned it.

Now as far as hire or not, over the years through attrition, I suspect the city chose to drop the workforce to a lower level, probably because it was cheaper to cover the slots with OT.

Now that the economy has tanked and someone wants to sell newspapers.... boom the story reads cops and firemen who made 170K last year.

As far as my opinion on a solution, there is a fine line in which the city, the fire chief and the union must determine if it is safe to continue to operate this way... cheaper or not. The issue with staying under staffed is having firefighters who are tired, less focused, grumpy and burn't out because they never get away from the job.

What does life time inflated pensions have to do with this? Now your sounding like a stab at paid pensions. The 22 new hire firefighters are going to get the same raises as the senior guys who worked while they were under staffed?
So, to hire or not to hire - that is the question.

You also as you mentioned have to look at past and present manpower levels. You also have to take into consideration things like - OT Padding before retirement - OT application, is it fair and balanced - sick time affect on manpower, normal or unusually high levels. Time trading - OT passing. Theres many issues most outsiders don't see.

The media reports as you said, "What Sells" - but aren't we all supposed to be honest when seeking solutions?
Actually, it is not always less expensive to pay OT than to hire new employees.

In most places, the benefits package (sick leave, vacation, health benefits, and retirement contributions) run somewhere between 20% and 32% of straight-time hourly costs. If you're coverning open slots on a long-term basis (more than 6 months or so) the overtime pay costs 150% of the base hourly rate, while hiring the new firefighters only costs 120% to 130%, including benefits.

The other advantage is that the new firefighters tend to start at a lower salary than the more experienced/more senior firefighters.

The 22 new firefighters will collect some OT (assuming FLSA OT while working 24/48 shifts), but that OT will be less expensive than the OT for the senior firefighters.

I have no problem with an entry-level firefighter making 190K if the system is set up that way, but it seems a more expensive option in the long run. That could be a contributing factor to why BFD hired the new firefighters.
Rick,

Most of which you mention is illegal by FLSA standards. The labor board would love to deal with little black book swaps, the trading of OT or "passing" it to pad the higher paid guys salary/retirement then pay a probie out of pocket. All illegal, not to mention, not on the books as working under the labor laws, injury claims and workers compensation.

Been through most of your issues before, if done correctly your body will not like the outcome. Usually ends with very stringent swap policy, absolutely no passing of any time or OT unless you deny it all together and then re-assigned to the guy who is actually going to get paid, tracked on paper or computer, within a certain # of days in a cycle, I know 10's and 14's the swap must be within a 28 day cycle per FLSA.

Fair distribution of OT is an administration right, unless your union has negotiated it into the contract as fair and equitable terminology.

So instead of asking us, you work there, what is your solution?
OT padding isn't illegal as long as the firefighter is working legitimate OT openings and the department rules allow it.

If there's not a mandatory OT rule, you often have to staff with whoever will take the OT.
If that results in "OT padding" for someone nearing retirement, it's not illegal, it's just que sera, sera.
Never said it was..... around my way seen firefighters nearing retirement take every OT shift at 50-60 bucks an hour and paid a kid 20 to cover the shift out of pocket (cash).

That is illegal per labor laws.
That's not "OT padding", that's an illegal swap - vast difference between the two.
So, to hire or not to hire - that is the question.

Rick,
First off my assessment was the simple fact that such articles discuss the OT "windfall" of such tax payer servants of FF's and police. What is typically and usually missing from such articles is the simple fact that it is cheaper to pay for OT than to hire new personnel.

Now my take here is the 22 new hires may help curb some OT costs, but it is still a small drop in the bucket to address the staffing issues. Now, your profile states you have 23 years with BFD, my experience stems from a couple hours of a BSing with a few BFD guys when I was out there a few years ago. It also comes from BFD related articles found in publications like Firehouse, Fire Engineering, etc. From my brief time visiting the city I saw the condition of some of the front line rigs, truck crews responding in pick ups because of no reserve rigs, and so forth, that and the information obtained from such publications, leads me to believe the city doesn't really give a damn about the firefighters. If so you guys would have had a contract at least 4 times over by now. Correct?

So in relation to that information, and it is no where near what you have actual access to, I ascertained the city is more concerned about money than firefighters or their safety. Couple that with a rather long, bitter, and nationally publicized contract dispute, it makes sense for an OT issue to be raised, but surprise, surprise, without the cheaper cost associated with it.

Now as far as I'm concerned OT is nice to have now and then, but if one must depend on OT to maintain a lifestyle or to live, then they need to reassess their personal lives. Secondly, when OT has been ongoing for as long as it has with BFD, FETC is correct, the price paid comes out of the person's life. After all in order to work all those extra hours of OT, it means your personal and family life suffers. Is money really worth that?

As for increased sick time and "padding" that can be easily addressed and contributed to burnout and added stress of working that OT. As long as there are equal opportunities for OT available, it shouldn't matter if the person with the most works again if others turned the OT down. It is hard to say that is padding. If this is dependant upon for retirement, then again one's personal life should be reassessed.




Now to answer the crux of the question of to hire or not to hire, I think I already explained that. It is better to hire and maintain an adequate staffing vs depending upon OT as a long term solution of keeping staffing, but reducing cost. My theory is that the city probably could afford to hire more, but they just don't want to. The city, if they really did give a damn about the FF's and cops, would hire to reduce the added stress and time away from families which they are doing with staying with OT. More stress, time on the job, exposures and so forth can lead to susceptibility for injury, illness, mental issues, and so forth which can take more people off the job for a day or longer, adding to the increased OT. Whereas, get some young blood in there, some new FF's, where you can maintain the current staffing, yet give guys a break....and maybe a chance to spend the OT money they are getting.

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