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Statement: “There is a full time team of firefighters (or use to be) whose full time job is to schedule firefighter overtime to ensure EVERY fire house is adequately staffed. Much of this overtime was mandatory. The city opted to pay this over time in-lieu of hiring an additional 125+ firefighters to ensure minimum staffing standards. This was a financial decision made by the city’s management and saved the city millions of dollars over the years,” San Diego police officer Steve McMillan wrote last week on his blog called Sparky San Diego.

Determination: Mostly True

Analysis: McMillan’s blog post criticized Union-Tribune columnist Michael Stetz for blasting the city’s firefighter union on its new opposition to the city’s brown-out plan, which makes fewer fire engines available for regular duty.

The firefighter union blamed the plan for a recent fire fatality. In response, Stetz blamed the city’s budget problems, which led to the brown-out plan, on firefighters’ pension and overtime costs.

That’s when McMillan chimed in. He said Stetz overlooked why some firefighters accumulate a ton of overtime pay and we wanted to check out the excerpt above.

Rather than hiring more firefighters to meet national accreditation standards, the city decided it would be cheaper to work its current employees for more hours and pay them overtime. The city’s independent budget analyst reported that the strategy saved the city at least $3 million in 2006 alone.

In some cases, overtime work is mandatory for firefighters. “If a sufficient number of employees do not volunteer to work overtime and additional positions must be filled, employees are mandated to remain at work beyond the end of their normal shift to fill the vacancies,” Fire Department spokesman Maurice Luque said.

But what about that team of schedule savvy firefighters? The answer to that one drops McMillan’s statement down from true to mostly true.

For at least the past seven years, the department’s overtime has been scheduled through a computer system. Firefighters manage the system, but it’s an adjunct duty, Luque said.

— KEEGAN KYLE

Summer Polacek

Summer Polacek was formerly the Development Manager at Voice of San Diego.

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