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San Diego Firefighters Being Forced To Work Overtime

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.

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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