L.A. County Fire Department overtime spending under scrutiny

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Overtime costs at the Los Angeles County Fire Department surged 36 percent in the last five years, placing some firefighters among the highest-compensated workers in local government, it was reported today.

The increase comes as the department grapples with staffing shortages and several seasons of extreme wildfires. Yet, some county officials and outside experts question whether fire commanders are properly managing their $1 billion payroll, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The county recently launched an audit of the department’s overtime costs and payroll procedures, though it will be months before that is complete. The Times conducted an analysis of the county payroll database, which lists salaries, overtime and fringe benefits received by about 100,000 employees in the last five years. The results show:

  •    More than 640 Fire Department workers received at least $100,000 in overtime in the 2017 calendar year. By comparison, there were 28 such employees in the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, which has twice the number of workers, and 48 in public medical and hospital jobs. No employee in civilian departments of the county recorded overtime that high.
  •    Two dozen firefighters made in excess of $200,000 in overtime, The Times reported.
  •    Fire Department employees represent about a third of the county’s 1,000 highest-paid employees, joining the ranks of surgeons, anesthesiologists and pediatricians who work in its public hospitals. A few made more than the fire chief and the county’s top executive, according to The Times.
  •    Among county workers who earned overtime, Fire Department employees received the most on average, by a wide margin. They were paid about $49,000 each in overtime last year, while workers in other agencies, including the Sheriff’s Department, were paid about $8,200, The Times reported.
  •    Overtime accounted for about a third of the average Fire Department employee’s annual pay last year. For other departments, the proportion was around 6 percent.

The high compensation in a department that relies so heavily on employees working extra hours has raised questions among experts who study employment and fire department procedures.

“It’s wrong from a budget perspective. There’s no way that the county should be allowing that to happen,” Frank Neuhauser, senior research associate at UC Berkeley’s Institute for the Study of Societal Issues and an expert on workplace insurance, told The Times. “Somebody is not doing scheduling in the right way.”

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