PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The job can be dangerous and difficult for sure, but you might be surprised to find out that of the city’s top 100 paid employees last year, more than half were firefighters, each making more than $115,000.
“I think that the taxpayers should be concerned when the budgets start getting to this level, and salaries start exceeding that of the mayor,” said City Councilman Bill Peduto, the Democratic mayoral nominee.
But the firefighters probably didn’t have much time to spend those paychecks, since a lot of what they earned was overtime or premium pay, to the tune of $1 million a month.
And already this year, fire overtime and premium pay is up an additional $2 million.
Fire captains and deputy chiefs won a court settlement giving them an additional $700,000 in retroactive overtime, and short-staffing has required most other firefighters to routinely work double shifts.
“Extreme amount of working hours… just to keep those neighborhood stations in the 88 neighborhoods safe,” said Joe King, the fire union president.
For most of this year, the city has operated with 550 firefighters or less.
The Act 47 overseers of city finances say it should be more like 720. That means firefighters are working as many as 80 and 90 hours a week. King says the solution is simple.
“They’ve got to hire more firefighters in the City of Pittsburgh,” he said.
After five years of not hiring, the city finally did. A class of 27 firefighters recently graduated and 28 new recruits are in training.
While the addition of a second recruit class will put a dent in the premium pay and overtime, it will not remedy the problem. But it appears that solutions are hard to come by.
Peduto, who is likely to be the next mayor, agrees the city needs to hire even more firefighters. But he says the city also needs better management control.
Peduto says to reduce overtime, he’ll try to negotiate a reduction in minimum staffing, which is the minimum number of firefighters required to work on each shift and on each piece of fire equipment.
But he says don’t expect the problem to be solved soon.
“Well, it’s not going to be done in one negotiation just as it wasn’t going away in one negotiation. It’s going to take several,” says Peduto.
But the problem needs to be solved soon. Unlike other employees, a firefighter’s pension is based on what he or she was paid in their last years on the job.
The higher the pensions, the more strain on the city’s under-funded pension system.