Fire department overtime down from 2015

Published 9:36 am Thursday, March 17, 2016

Overtime in the Vicksburg Fire Department is down about $74,000 for second quarter of the city’s 2016 fiscal year compared to the same period in 2015, according to statistics released by Mayor George Flaggs Jr.’s office.

The drop is the second time firefighter overtime fell since the start of the fiscal year in October. Overtime for the first quarter, which ended Dec. 31, was down $29,033.98 compared to the same period in 2015.

“I commend Chief (Charles) Atkins and his deputy chiefs for their management of the department in bringing the overtime down,” Flaggs said. “It’s not as low as I’d like to see it, but I’m pleased to see it down, and its being reduced with less people.”

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Atkins attributes the reduction to several things.

While firefighters are still taking leave, he said, new hires and two firefighters who transferred from the Jackson Fire Department, combined with his decision in September to idle engine No. 4 at the Central Fire Station, are helping reduce the overtime. The firefighters from truck 4 are sent to other stations to fill spots as needed.

And the department’s ambulance service has a full compliment of paramedics.

“That was our biggest issue,” he said. The firefighters are dual trained as firefighters, EMTs and paramedics, he said, and in the past were periodically called to assist on ambulances as needed.

“Their pay is already high and when they have to work extra, then it’s guaranteed to have an increase in that situation (overtime),” he said.

“We’re doing what we need to do, and we have other units covering for No. 4,” Atkins said. “That’s how we’re keeping the overtime down. What I want to know is where’s the money coming from when we get (staffing) where we need to be.”

Atkins said he presently has 37 firefighters per shift spread over seven fire stations in the city.

He said he has more employees than in 2015, but not all are certified firefighters and are on restricted duties while undergoing training. Besides the two firefighters who transferred in from Jackson, three firefighters recently completed the State Fire Academy and are on duty, and five others are waiting to attend. He expects to add two more in the future.

Firefighters work 24-hour shifts. Under city policy, they work 2,912 hours a year and have 230 hours of overtime per year built into their pay, which is known as built-in overtime. Unscheduled overtime is overtime a firefighter receives if they are called to fill in for another firefighter because of illness or because a station is short-handed.

Firefighter overtime, especially unscheduled overtime was a major issue going into the 2016 budget discussions.

In September, the last month of the fiscal year, overtime at one point reached $783,212.40 for a combined 44,578 hours of overtime. Of that total, 22,872 of the overtime were for unscheduled overtime. At the close of the fiscal year, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved an extra $300,000 to cover a shortfall in firefighters salaries.

The overtime problem led Flaggs to threaten closing Fire Station No. 7 on South Washington Street and reassigning the crews there to other stations to reduce overtime. Atkins offered to idle truck No. 4 as a compromise. When the overtime dropped in the first quarter of fiscal 2016, board extended action on Station No. 7 until June 1.

If overtime is sufficiently down by then, Flaggs said, “We may not have to close Station 7.”