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March 17, 2009

Surging overtime for Buffalo firefighters

Overtime costs for Buffalo firefighters jumped nearly five-fold since 2004--and while fire officials blame a hiring freeze, the Buffalo News found that city's staffing ratios are on par with comparable cities.

In a two-part series (here and here) , the News examines the surge in overtime, which the firefighters union directs disproportionately to senior firefighters to spike their final pension payments.

Consider for example, Buffalo Fire Captain Raymond J. Sullivan, who retired in 2008 with an annual pension of $84,950, pumped up by overtime hours during his final years of employment.

In addition to the 2,080 hours of regular time he worked [in 2007], Sullivan put in another 2,148 hours of overtime in 2007. That's the equivalent of an 81.4-hour work week, 52 weeks a year.

As a captain, Sullivan's 2007 base pay was $62,136, and he earned $102,998 in overtime that year.

He worked about 10 months in 2008 before retiring, and earned $103,420 --including $40,543 in overtime.

According to the News, overtime and sick time have surged in recent years.
...overtime went from $2.2 million in 2004 to $10.6 million in 2008. During that time, the number of overtime hours worked went from 55,444 to 238,673.
Sick time, meanwhile, increased by 27 percent between fiscal year 2006-07 and fiscal year 2007-08, reflecting, some say, a department in which the staff is aging as well as suffering from low morale associated with labor strife.

Buffalo has not hired any firefighters since 2001, because of personnel freezes imposed by the city and the city's financial control board. As a result, increased overtime is required to cover staffing shortages, according to fire department and union officials.

However, the Buffalo News found the Buffalo's staffing ratios are in line with comparable cities in the Northeast and Midwest.

Buffalo has 613 active firefighters, about 23 for every 10,000 residents.

The ratio is about 25 per 10,000 in Rochester, about 21 in Cleveland, about 22 in Pittsburgh and about 24 in Newark, N.J.

The News posted a database of pensions for Buffalo firefighters and other public-sector retirees.

Posted by Lise Bang-Jensen

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