PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — They’re the city’s top earners – police officers, paramedics and firefighters – and by working long hours of overtime, they’re making more than the mayor and any chief or department head.
Of the top 100 earners, 53 are firefighters each making more than $115,000 a year. In fact, the city is shelling out more than a $1 million a month in fire overtime and premium pay.
City Controller Michael Lamb says it’s out of control.
“These individual firefighters are putting in the time. They’ve earned the pay their getting as high as it may be,” said Lamb. “But it really goes to overtime and the management of the bureau as a whole.”
“We’re definitely understaffed in the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire,” Joe King, of the Pittsburgh Firefighters Union, says.
KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: “And that’s the reason for the overtime?”
The fire union has long maintained that the key to reducing overtime is hiring more firefighters. At its current staffing of 585, the city is about 140 firefighters fewer than the prescribed number.
But while Lamb believes more hiring is in order, he says the city should reduce minimum staffing, the required number of equipment and firefighters on a given shift.
Since the number of fires has decreased markedly in the past 10 years and some shifts are less busy than others, he says management should have the flexibility to take some equipment out of service.
“When you look at minimum staffing, do you need exactly the same kind of equipment and staffing at each shift? And that’s the kind of thing I think needs to be negotiated as part of the collective bargaining agreement,” Lamb said.
But King says reducing minimum staffing would put firefighters at risk.
“Let him do his numbers. I deal with real facts,” King said, “and that is if you decline or do anything to the safety manning, you’re just going to expose a firefighter to more unsafe conditions.”
There’s a new class of recruits at the fire academy and another scheduled, and while they may put a dent in the overtime problem, they will not cure it. That will take all the parties involved working together.