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San Diego Firefighters Being Forced To Work Overtime

Aired 7/3/12 on KPBS News.

Early retirements and no fire academies have led to a staffing shortage at the San Diego Fire and Rescue Department. Firefighters are being forced to work overtime, even if they don’t want to.

— A firefighter’s shift is typically 24 hours long. San Diego Fire and Rescue Chief Javier Mainar said when the firefighters get off around 8 in the morning they’re sometimes asked to work additional shifts.

San Diego Fire and Rescue Department Truck 10 sits in a fire station garage.
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Above: San Diego Fire and Rescue Department Truck 10 sits in a fire station garage.

If no one volunteers, Mainar said supervisors go down a list and force firefighters to stay on the job, sometimes for an additional day or two. He said the department is short about 100 people right now but still has the same staffing demands.

"Firefighters typically volunteer to work overtime, but we’ve reached a point where we’re kind of overworking them and we’re actually having to force hire them," he said. "And that not only makes life more difficult on them and their families, but when they refuse they’re subject to disciplinary action as well."

Mainar said the department hasn’t had a fire academy in the last three years because of budget cuts. As a result it hasn’t hired anyone. At the same time older employees have been leaving because of changes to retirement and compensation benefits.

The department is scheduled to hold two fire academies this year, but firefighter union president Frank De Clercq said they won’t solve the problem.

"Understand those academies are going to take upwards of three quarters of a year to get them all out in the ranks," he said. "So it will have an impact, but we also have ongoing attrition."

De Clercq said it’s also unlikely all 72 people who start the academies will actually finish.

The department racked up more than 575,000 hours of overtime in fiscal year 2012.That's compared to more than 202,000 hours in fiscal year 2011. However, that was when the department was browning out some engines in an effort to save on overtime expenses.

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | July 5, 2012 at 12:16 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

We should stop lionizing the fire department. They're paid to fight fires and although this is a dangerous job, its the perks that have attracted many of them versus the service for the community. The overtime pay, pension benefits, and nepotism have corrupted this agency. I for one am glad to see future persons in this dept will now be switched to 401k style retirement plans. As for the overtime issue, this is why I am for turning the fire dept into a military-style dept where people enlist and are paid equivalent to how we pay our military, which is by salary. This will control overtime and keep them from whining about the long hours they sometimes work. I know from people in the fire dept who have no problem in bragging how they earn big-time bucks sitting on their haunches when they aren't putting out fires. Believe it when I tell you we'd all be surprised if you peel back the onion and get a true picture of how they live and work.

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