City seeks to douse overtime

Firefighters tasked with performing basic emergency maintenance on the Fire Department’s fleet have burned through thousands of hours of overtime in the first six months of this year.

One firefighter, Alan Harvey, was paid for working 456 consecutive hours as an on-call member of the department’s Bureau of Equipment, which fixes minor vehicle and equipment problems in the field. Another firefighter at the bureau, Gary Altenberg, racked up 908 hours in overtime in the first six months of the year, 40 percent more than his 648 regular hours worked, according to time sheets submitted to the Controller’s Office.

Firefighters at the bureau are required to work 24-hour shifts in which the employee does routine maintenance during the day and then relocates to a fire station located on Cesar Chavez Street.

In total, the five on-call firefighters at the equipment bureau worked 3,252 hours of overtime at about $53 per hour. Altenberg earned more than $222,000 in 2007 due to overtime, $30,000 less than fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White.

While many city departments have scrambled to trim overtime spending this fiscal year, the Fire Department had called for $20 million more in overtime funding in its recent budget proposal. The funding request, however, recently was turned down by the Board of Supervisors.

Now, as The City struggles to close a projected budget deficit of more than $300 million by putting a cap on overtime spending, Hayes-White is attributing the high level of overtime to the lack of a specialized staff, department spokeswoman Lt. Mindy Talmadge said. She said Hayes-White is struggling to train more firefighters to work in specialized bureaus in the Fire Department.

In a meeting Tuesday, Hayes-White called on supervisors to find other bureaus that are understaffed.

Earlier this month, former San Francisco firefighter James Corrigan alerted Hayes-White that one firefighter had lived and worked out of the station for 19 consecutive days.

“She doesn’t see everyone’s schedule every day,” Talmadge said. “Command staff and supervisors were told to be aware [of the overtime spent].”

The department now is searching for another maintenance worker to train for the “specialized tasks” required of the equipment maintenance job.

“The chief has advertised for another position to be filled,” Talmadgesaid. “Obviously, there are people who could learn to do this.”

John Hanley, leader of the San Francisco Firefighters Local 798 Union, said Hayes-White should keep a better eye on the hours worked at the Fire Department.

“BOE guys are very, very valuable,” Hanley said. “They save The City lots of money by not having to outsource these jobs. That all being said, the chief should train more people to do the job.”

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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