A recent audit by the Buffalo Comptroller’s Office found the Buffalo Fire Department spent $10 million in overtime in the past fiscal year.
How much overtime are we talking about? The average civilian employee (someone who doesn't respond to fires) worked an average of 400 hours of overtime or 10 weeks of work. Emergency responders (such as firefighters) worked an average 268 hours of overtime, according to the audit.
The audit also found seven cases where fire dispatchers worked 48 hour shifts, and 137 times where they worked 24 hour shifts.
At any moment, Buffalo fire dispatchers could be called for a lifesaving emergency. It's their job to make sure that emergency gets the proper response. It's a 24 hour a day job, and the phones have to be covered. So that's why Buffalo fire officials said a recent audit by the Buffalo comptroller found instances of those long shifts.
It was addressed during a meeting Wednesday between the comptroller's office, fire officials, and Buffalo Common Council Member Richard Fontana.
“It's not uncommon throughout the country to do that. It's actually more common to do 24 hour shifts than the shift we do now,” said Deputy Fire Commissioner Vincent Muscarella.
Muscarella said those employees are also given a paid five hour break for each 24 hour shift. So, in some cases, employees are paid up to 10 hours to sleep. “While I'm relieved that there are some public safety implications that are positive, on the flip side, we don't want to pay anybody to sleep and if they'd hire enough people, we wouldn't have to pay anybody to sleep,” said Comptroller Executive Assistant, Patrick Curry.
This audit is a follow up to one done in January 2016. It also found the department only budgeted for roughly six million in O.T. yet it spent $10 million.
Ali Touhey: Would you agree that $10 million is a lot of money spent on OT?
Muscarella: I would agree $10 million is a lot of money. Do I agree it's a lot of money spent on overtime? Public safety comes first no matter what.
Muscarella said there had previously been a number of vacancies across the department, primarily from retirement. He said overtime was required to cover the calls. But he said new hires, including four more dispatchers, will soon complete training and he expects the amount of O.T. to decrease.
“The proof is in the pudding and until we see the numbers we're not going to believe it,” Curry said.
Fontana said he doesn't believe the department is doing anything criminal after hearing from fire officials. However, Comptroller Mark Schroeder, who is challenging Mayor Byron Brown in the September Primary, sent the audit to the Erie County D.A.’s Office for review.