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D.C. Fire/EMS overtime way, way over budget

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Local,News,Nation,Business,DC,Transportation,Michael Neibauer

Twenty-five employees of the District's fire and emergency medical services department collected nearly $400,000 in overtime through the first five months of the fiscal year, helping to bust the agency's overtime budget with seven months still to go.

 

Data provided by FEMS to the D.C. Council's public safety committee shows one employee earned $25,027 in overtime between Oct. 1 and mid-February, more than a third of his $66,986 annual salary.

 

One firefighter/paramedic earned $7,848 for 359 hours of overtime during the two-week pay period ending Feb. 13. Between Feb. 7 and 13, the employee worked six 24-hour shifts and one 12-hour shift. Another firefighter earned $5,894 for 227 overtime hours during the same period, which included February's two blizzards.

 

The department is expected to run $11 million over budget this fiscal year, $6.3 million of which is unanticipated overtime spending. FEMS paid out $3.85 million in overtime in the first quarter alone.

The fire department has struggled to control overtime spending in recent years, placing the blame on budget cuts that force agency brass to freeze vacant positions. There are 126 vacant but frozen uniformed jobs in FEMS, 1,818 filled slots and only five available positions. Workers on the job today are scheduled to earn $116.5 million this year -- not including overtime.

"Although efforts to control overtime spending continue, our effectiveness is limited by the large number of 'frozen' operational vacancies restricting our ability to hire new employees and resulting in overtime costs to fill vacant positions," Fire Chief Dennis Rubin told the council's public safety panel Wednesday. "This contributed to higher overtime costs during the December and February snow storms, as well."

But Councilman Phil Mendelson, committee chairman, said Rubin is to blame for implementing expensive policies that the department can't afford, like a $795,000 captain's promotion.

"I think the pressure's getting turned up on him," Mendelson said of Rubin. "The facts are making it increasingly difficult for a reasonable person not to see that there's a management problem.

"The decisions they make on spending that isn't budgeted and results in frozen positions, that's a management decision. The fact that the same people are allowed to keep going back to the overtime trough, which results in frozen positions, that's a management decision."

The top 25 FEMS overtime earners in fiscal 2009 took home $1.45 million, including two who collected six figures, and four who brought home between $70,000 and $92,000. The numbers were higher in 2008, when the top 25 earners garnered $1.58 million. The same names pop up continually, suggesting "abuse by a small number of FEMS personnel," Mendelson said.

mneibauer@washingtonexaminer.com

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