Thursday, April 25, 2013

Firefighter OT $221K

Firefighter OT $221K, If you’re looking for a poster boy for the San Francisco Fire Department’s out-of-whack overtime, meet Lt. Gary Altenberg of Station 39 on Portola Avenue.

Thanks largely to staffing shortages that had department management ordering up extra shifts, Altenberg pulled in $221,000 in overtime last year, raising his total paycheck to $363,000..REPORTED.

That’s nearly $50,000 more than what Fire Chief  Joanne Hayes-White made. Frederick Binkley, a paramedic/firefighter at Station 51 in the Presidio, was his closest competition, picking up $191,000 in overtime to bring his pay for the year to $337,204.

Three battalion chiefs came next, earning $113,000 to $124,000 apiece in overtime. That boosted their pay to $316,000 to $332,000 each.

Such payouts are a big reason why the Fire Department has already burned through its $38 million overtime budget with more than two months to go in the fiscal year, and is asking the Board of Supervisors for the OK to spend another $4.1 million.

“It’s insane,” said Tom O’Connor, president of the San Francisco firefighters union.

O’Connor points the finger at chronic understaffing — caused by the department’s failure to fill 400 vacant positions — for requiring some firefighters to put in hundreds of hours of  OT a year.

Hayes-White conceded that it has been “more efficient’’ to pay overtime than hire additional firefighters, but said, “I don’t think it’s sustainable … for someone time after time to accumulate more than 2,000 hours of overtime (a year). And as the fire chief, I don’t support it from a safety perspective or from a mental health perspective.’’

The department brass has repeatedly pledged to reduce its reliance on OT, however, and little has changed.

It takes some mighty long hours to rack up the bill. Top earner Altenberg, for example, worked the equivalent of about 1½ extra round-the-clock shifts a week.

“It’s mind-boggling,’’ O’Connor said. “You are getting some real important calls — a lot of cases involving congestive heart failure and elderly patients that tend to show up in the early-morning hours — so you are not getting a lot of sleep.’’

 Altenberg’s overtime load last year totaled nearly three times the department’s supposed 633-hour cap, and this year he is actually picking up the pace. He has rung up 2,100 hours for an estimated $265,000 in OT this fiscal year, which doesn’t end until June 30.

 Altenberg, through the union, declined to comment.

 Firefighters are permitted to exceed the overtime cap if they volunteer for shifts that the department needs to fill, sparing others from having to work mandatory overtime.

“The only true way to solve the problem is to get more people in the department,’’ O’Connor said.

In December, Mayor Ed Lee promised to add at least one extra 48-member class of firefighter recruits every year for the next six years, with the goal being to fill many of those 400 vacant positions.

As a result, Hayes-White says said she has imposed a new “hard cap” of 1,100 hours of overtime a year per firefighter — meaning no more extra volunteering to prevent others from being called. That policy took effect April 15.

 As usual, however, the new OT rule isn’t all that ironclad. Firefighters who hit the cap are still subject to mandatory overtime if there are staff shortages.

 In other words, they’re right where they have been. And from what we’re told, Altenberg was among the first to get the call.

For more M&R, including what the guy told a San Francisco store clerk after somebody fired three shots at him

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