Overtime Expense Means More Aid Cars Instead Of Engines For Everett Fire Department

December 1, 2017

Everett Fire, Everett Government

Editor’s Update 9:45 PM: Paul Gagnon, President of the Everett Firefighters Union responded when asked by MyEverettNews.com for his thoughts about this action by the city. They follow at the end of this article.

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On Wednesday Interim Everett Fire Chief Tim Key was asked to explain to the Everett City Council budget committee the amount of overtime his department had run up this year over how much was in the budget for overtime.

According to figures from the city administration, the amount budgeted for overtime in 2017 was $885,138.00 and the actual overtime for this year is looking like $2,226,512.00 or an overage of $1,452,374.00.

You can click here to watch the budget presentation to the Everett City Council Budget Committee.

Chief Key presented figures showing there are two different funds for overtime for the fire department. One fund (032) at $885,138.00 for suppression covers 155 staff members and is what the administration cited to the committee but Key told council members there is another fund (153) that contains $648,044.00 for medical services overtime for 43 staff members and the entire overtime fund is actually $1,533,182.00. The medical overtime fund (153) has not had excessive overtime unlike the suppression fund.

There are two major reasons for the large overtime amount according to Chief Key. Reason number one is there are not enough staff members to move into a Captain or Driver position due to a hiring freeze from 2011 – 2015. In order to be a Captain a staffer has to have five or more years of service. A driver has to have three years of service. A lack of hires has slowed the progression of staff to the Captain and Driver ranks. In order to run a fire engine you have to have at least a three person crew including a driver. An aid car or Suburban only requires two fire department personnel.

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson says this year’s overtime problem really began when Eric Hicks, appointed to the Fire Chief’s position in January 2017 brought back the use of Engine 3. The staffing of Engine 3 was normally done with the use of overtime. Hicks resigned as Fire Chief after only four months. In May Tim Key was named interim Chief.

Reason number two for the overtime is a lack of staff. Currently the Fire Department runs 37 staff per shift. With retirements and the hiring freeze there are plenty of positions on paper but in reality the department is understaffed and that has led to use of overtime to have enough staff on duty. At any given moment between retirements and firefighters in the hiring process there are eight positions in limbo. Key says if they can get authorization to hire more staff they can run 40 staff per shift at regular pay and not run into excessive overtime.

For now Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson has directed Chief Key to not run Engine 3 if that creates an overtime situation. Instead, that slot would be filled by a two person aid car or outfitted Suburban to respond to Basic Life Support or Advanced Life Support calls. Stephanson says the Fire Department will also track weekly the status of every call to determine if the standards for sending rigs, what kind and how many, can be adjusted.

Contract negotiations will be coming up in 2018 and the committee discussed offering sick leave buyouts to firefighters getting ready to retire in order to limit excessive sick leave that has to be filled with staff on overtime.

While the overtime estimated for this year is in excess of $2.3 million dollars there are other savings of more than $1 million dollars in positions unfilled and other budget areas of the fire department.

During the regular Everett City Council meeting an appropriation of $745,000.00 was made to address the fire department overtime for this year.

Given the turnover in the Everett Fire Department over the past 12 months and the upcoming negotiations, incoming Mayor Cassie Franklin will have to decide on whether to change Tim Key’s appointment as Chief from interim to permanent or conduct a search for a new Everett Fire Chief so permanent leadership is in place moving forward.

Here is the response from Paul Gagnon, President of the Everett Firefighters Union to the above article…

The fact is, that it’s difficult to reduce the fire department’s costs because calls for emergency service and expenses continue to increase faster than revenues. The city claims that one of the main reasons that they have these overtime increases is because of their hiring freeze plan they initiated during the recession. These overtime costs are simply the result of a lack of planning by the fire admin & city staff.

The Firefighters Union has a major concern that the city is making decisions about the public’s safety in a vacuum. The outgoing Mayor is directing the Fire Chief to shut down a fire engine that responds to over 3,000 calls a year without any response data to validate his decision.

The citizens should be aware that the City of Everett is not complying with Washington State law (RCW 35.103 Fire Department Performance Measures). The state mandated performance measure states that every city shall evaluate its level of service and deployment delivery and response time objectives on an annual basis. This mandated performance measurement system was put into place to provide information to all policymakers, so they can make better decisions. This law was established in 2007 and the City of Everett has only complied with this state law once in the last ten years.

The bottom line is that reduced staffing impacts the public’s safety. The firefighters have never asked for more overtime, just to be staffed appropriately. The Firefighters Union has offered many solutions on hiring and staffing which the city has repeatable rejected. We want our city to move forward and not backward, and we are hopeful that our new Mayor-elect understands that before it’s too late.



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About myeverettnews

My Everett News is a hyperlocal news website featuring breaking news and events in Everett, WA. We also cover City of Everett information and items of interest to those who live and work in Everett. It's written by Leland Dart a former Snohomish County based radio reporter born and raised in Everett.

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