Love Affair With Buffalo's Firefighters Ends

Citizens demand that Firefighter overtime be eliminated.

BUFFALO, NY (April 2, 2009) -- Crooks, the millionaires club and greedy old men. Nope, these aren’t remarks about the scoundrels who have set this nation’s economy in a tailspin. Rather, they are comments being voiced by the citizens of Buffalo, NY about city’s firefighters, who find themselves defending the fact that they accepted $10 million last year in overtime.

Although I'm not a Buffalo resident, our small East Coast Department, along with cities like Phoenix, Columbia (SC), Houston and dozens of others have financial woes similar to those being experienced in Buffalo. But in Buffalo, the specific complaint deals with the amount of overtime that firefighters are offered in order to keep the city’s firehouses running.

It's quite interesting to read blog responses of citizens as they rip away at the members of the Buffalo Fire Department. Seemingly, many of them equate the current overtime situation, and the firefighters themselves, with the likes of Bernie Maddof, Bear Stearns and AIG. As I mentioned in an OP-ED, firefighters punch a time clock, they don't sign multi-million dollar cons.

Like most other union organized departments in this nation, Buffalo FD operates with a contract, part of which calls for the total authorized personnel required to run the department in its current form and function.

However -- and this is the fact that The Buffalo News fails to reveal -- BFD is about 153 firefighters short of that authorized number. Only 613 firefighters currently work in Buffalo's firehouses, however the authorized strength is established at 766.

The current authorized strength came after deep, deep cuts in the BFD, which began back in 1978 and continued for nearly 20 years. Today, the department, its tactics and operations are based on the 766 number, which both the commissioner and chief say is needed to properly protect the city and its citizens, while maintaining minimum staffing requirements. So no one should be surprised, especially the city's financial team, that its necessary to call in off-duty firefighters, on an overtime basis, to cover empty positions left by 153 missing firemen.

If Boston’s citizens have a gripe with firefighters, and the amount that they earn through overtime, they need to take direct aim at the city administration – not front line firefighters. It has been 8 years since the city graduated a recruit class, so the real problem is not overtime, but rather the fact that the city has failed to hire additional firefighters.

The sure fire method for lowering overtime is to hire those firefighters (or some portion thereof) that the city promised in its contract with IAFF Local 282. In our faltering economy, the new jobs would be a much needed boost for young men and women, many of whom are already trained for the position and chomping at the bit to help the public.

There are dozens of ideas that can help reduce operational costs without placing risk to the public and firefighters themselves. But such interaction requires an open line of communications among fire administration, the union and the citizens themselves.

Instead of griping at the city's firefighters, perhaps Buffalo residents, who are the most angered, might consider serving on a community advisory committee, which would offer advice on how overtime could be reduced without affecting the true mission of the BFD -- saving lives and limiting property damage.

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Comment by Captain Kevin C. Ross on April 3, 2009 at 3:12pm
I have to wonder if the citzen of Buffalo, just like everywhere else ever thought if they really wanted to get mad look at all of the political positions and how much they get paid and what extra they are collecting. First off all I hear is how we can't afford this, and we have to raise this tax and that tax, and we have to cut this service out because we can't afford it, what we really can't afford is all the so called people who are supposedly running our country, counties, cities, towns, villages, etc. Lets cut out all the assistant to the assistant, and the deputy mayor, and deputy county executive, and the secretary to the secretary and so on. Then we can use that money for the good of people. Sorry I got to get off my soap box. In the mean time the people of Buffalo and the rest of the world should be glad they have people like the Buffalo Firefighters who would rather work overtime then leave the citzens of Buffalo without protection. To Commissioner Mike Lombardo & All The Firefighter of Buffalo, NY congratulations on a job well done, keep up the great work you do & STAY SAFE!!! Captain Kevin C. Ross
Comment by Scott on April 3, 2009 at 10:28am
Overtime is cheaper to a point. Our administrator has it figured to the day of the year when we can run short and it costs us less to fill with OT vs filling open spots. Once we have a date the Chief fills the slots. This year for us its June. Last year it was Feb. Some years we go no new hires.
My guess is the city is too lazy to do it. We have the OT thing come up from time to time as well. It always makes a big deal for a few weeks then the media grabs onto something else. PD OT and School administrator pay is the sacred cow around here.
Comment by Jason Koontz on April 3, 2009 at 4:06am
I don't know about all the OT and contract stuff. When I was union I admit I didn't pay much attention. if they're hurting that bad, iI have to agree with Chief Reason. Theres thousands of young guys who have their FF1's just begging for jobs. There has to be plenty of them willing to relocate. Hell, I don't know much about Buffalo, but I'd give it a shot for 6 months. I know the union would hate it, but what about short-term guys? 6 month stretch, so they can figure everything out, plan what to do next, yadda yadda. In that six months, you can have a pile of fireman at work, who because they're onlyon short term employment don't get the bennies and retirement. I imagine you'll still have to fork out for workmens comp and insurance, but you save some money, get a few guys to work, and then when they do hire permanent, give the short term guys first shot. Put them in their own testing and build the first list there. Just an idea from a BFE vollie who doesn't know much. My dept. did that twice, and the temp guys were given extra points when it came to hiring time. Both became permanent, and loved the fact that they got to try out being a union guy, to see if they really did like it as much as they hoped. Was a great try-out period, saved money for the dept, got all the hours covered, and no one griped.
Comment by FETC on April 2, 2009 at 9:04pm
Art I am not in Buffalo so I am not going to say how their OT is disseminated. I am relating my position from my past experience that it is cheaper to hire firefighters in on OT to fill a slot, than it is to hire a person to cover the same position with all the benefits that come with the position.

But you are on to something, it gets to a tipping point in which you have tired and unrested firefighters who can't get away from the job, the stress, the emergencies. After the tippping point, it becomes unhealthy.

Not sure if BFD uses forced overtime or voluntary, in my department though we use the voluntary overtime recall, you get called in advance to cover a shift on a day in the future, you can choose to work it or not, and if they can't cover your request for time off, it is denied by the Deputy Chief and you are to report to work.
Comment by FETC on April 2, 2009 at 8:51pm
Dave I am glad you are a volunteer but how does that relate to the Buffalo OT issue?

Here is my spin:

Overtime is far cheaper than hiring new personnel to get the fire department to the minimum manning that is required when you have a hiring freeze. The city knows this. This is why they are doing it, otherwise they would have hired guys as they retired. The union has absolutely no say on hiring or not hiring.

When the city mayor chooses to NOT hire, there is a savings because lets say 350 guys total are trying to man 100 shift slots. That leaves 50 unfilled fulltime vacancies. Lets say 20 shifts per day are OT. (bear with me this is just an example) There is no additional $$$ being spent on workmens comp, the weekly benefit and retirement package, no initial or recurring OT training and the purchase of PPE, uniforms, allowances for the men who choose to work the overtime slots. Those vacancies are covered on the raw dollar. The city knows this... the problem is average Joe citizen is pissed because they are struggling with this poor economy...

But remember this.... the money was EARNED. It wasn't given to the guy who is on OT. I would bet if you were to ask a guy who actually made $134,000 to be a firefighter with overtime and benefits, if you were to ask his family how much they actually saw him last year, what you would find is major hardship and a burden on the family relationship but they (I say they) are a well paid family.

Now if Average Joe citizen was able to work 80-90 hours a week at his or her chosen job, in which anything above 40hrs would be OVERTIME, they would say they earned every god damn penny of it....
and their annual salary would be pretty significant wouldn't it?

SO I PROCLAIM THIS, THE BROTHERS IN BUFFALO EARNED EVERY PENNY OF IT TOO.
Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on April 2, 2009 at 8:19pm
FETC:
Sounds like the residents of Buffalo want their cake (same level of service) and to eat it too (to cost them less money).
Is the OT being offered on a voluntary basis or is it mandatory?
The reason I ask is that when I was in a union, the limited the amount of OT the company could force.
Sad.
TCSS.
Art
Comment by Dave Hustead on April 2, 2009 at 3:53pm
When most people view these articles about excessive overtime they are pissed. What makes the whole process worse is these firefighters and police are making it in there final year before retiring. Yes the City of Buffalo FD in understaffed and has been for years but to have this as part of the union contracts today rubs most people the wrong way. I am a volunteer firefighter and have been for years and appreciate the work the paid members do but this overtime pay has to stop. The City is looking into adding the additional firefighters to eliminate this problem but as you all know it won't be easy. Thet need to increase the base pay and spread around any overtime when needed. I feel with Commisioner Lombardo he will work as hard as he can to resolve all the issues.
Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on April 2, 2009 at 2:48pm
Copper:
I was just messin' with the cops.
Alot of them are my friends...neighbors relatives...
Actually, I don't know any cops personally. No, wait; my dad was a cop, but he died in '92, so I guess that IS an accurate statement.
I get the feeling Buffalo isn't an end destination for too many.
Is population shrinking or growing in that mecca of public relations?
I'll bet they have already thought about deputizing the garbage truck drivers and equipping the trucks with small pumps and hoses for fires.
I'd be curious to know how many raises the city administrator has gotten for their forward thinking abominations.
TCSS.
Art
Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on April 2, 2009 at 2:04pm
Lou;
What do you want to bet that it's the cops leaving comments on firefighter overtime?
Seriously, why hasn't anyone looked at filling at least some of the positions that are empty with contract firefighters? I realize that there isn't a temp agency for firefighters, but there are plenty of people looking to go full time; many who already have their certifications. They just need a job.
I mean; they are almost turn key employees.
You and I know that the money is nice, but someone needs to tell the Buffalo FD that they need a break every now and then.
This is not a good situation and if you have a public that alienated, then God help the FD if they start talking budget cuts again. The citizens can't seem to make the connection, so they will want heads to roll, even though fewer heads mean higher OT costs.
Seems like the East has cornered the market on FD backlashes.
I said "it seems like it"!
Take care, Lou.
Art

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