Understaffed San Francisco firefighters rake in OT

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Joanne Hayes-White, San Francisco Fire Department chief (AP Photo)

Joanne Hayes-White, San Francisco Fire Department chief (AP Photo)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Some San Francisco firefighters are raking in six-figure overtime paychecks because of staffing shortages that have department managers scheduling numerous extra shifts, a newspaper reported.

A lieutenant at Station 39 on Portola Avenue collected $221,000 in overtime last year, raising his total salary to $363,000, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. A paramedic-firefighter at Station 51 in the Presidio made $191,000 in overtime, taking his pay to $337,204, while three battalion chiefs made $113,000 to $124,000 each in overtime, boosting their pay to $316,000 to $332,000 each, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Wednesday.

The fire department already has spent its $38 million overtime budget with two months to go in the fiscal year and is asking the Board of Supervisors to approve another $4.1 million, according to the newspaper.

Firefighters union president Tom O’Connor said some crew members put in hundreds of hours of overtime a year and blamed chronic understaffing caused by the department’s failure to fill 400 vacant positions for the extra hours.

“The only true way to solve the problem is to get more people in the department,” he said.

Chief Joanne Hayes-White, who made about $50,000 less than the lieutenant last year, conceded the current overtime model is not sustainable.

“I don’t support it from a safety perspective or from a mental health perspective,” she said.

The department has an overtime cap of 633 hours, but firefighters are able to exceed that if they volunteer for shifts that need to be filled, sparing other people mandatory overtime. Hayes-White said she has instituted a hard cap of 1,100 hours of overtime, effective April 15.

Mayor Ed Lee, meanwhile, has promised to add at least one additional 48-member class of firefighter recruits every year for the next six years to fill many of those vacant positions.

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