Public-Sector Unions Keep the Gravy Train Flowing to Fire DepartmentsMay 15, 2017
In 1980, according to the National Fire Protection Association, the nation's 30,000 fire departments responded to 10.8 million emergency calls. About 3 million were classified as fires. By 2013, total calls had nearly tripled to 31.6 million, while fire calls had plummeted to 1.24 million, of which just 500,000 of were actual structure fires. For America's 1.14 million career and volunteer firefighters, that works out to an average of just one structure fire every other year.In other words, a enormous number of firefighters could be replaced by paramedics — using much less-expensive vehicles — and no one would notice.
But don't let these facts get in the way of the romantic view of firefighting perpetuated by popular culture.
And no organization loves the fantasy version of firefighting better than the public unions that lobby constantly for more lucrative salaries and benefits for firefighters.
Some unions are more successful than others, of course, but as firefighting becomes safer and safer, the Los Angeles Police Department has only been raking in more and more dough, and provides an example of just how far firefighters can go in exploiting the public's benevolent view of everyone's favorite government agency.
According to just-released 2016 salary data from TransparentCalifornia.com, just three Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) employees, for example, earned a combined $1.36 million last year — $974,779 of which came from overtime pay alone.
Unsurprisingly, the LAFD trio earned the three largest overtime payouts of the more than 550,000 workers surveyed statewide:
- Fire captain Charles Ferrari received $334,655 in OT, with total earnings of $469,198.
- Fire captain James Vlach received $332,583 in OT, with total earnings of $469,158.
- Firefighter Donn Thompson received $307,542 in OT, with total earnings of $424,913.
…is not being used for fires or other emergencies. Instead, most of it goes for replacing those who are out because of vacations, holidays, injuries, training, illnesses or personal leaves. Millions more go to firefighters on special assignments, such as in-house training and evaluation programs.
Six-Figure OT Payouts up 760% over Past 5 YearsIn the original 1996 Times report, a retired LAFD firefighter described overtime pay as “a little extra bonus for the guys,” that allows them to get “a new boat on the river and a new truck every year.”
Back then, the department’s largest OT payout was just under $103,000.
And as the dollar amount of these payouts exploded, so too has their number, particularly over the past five years.
Since 2012, the number of LAFD workers who received overtime payouts of at least $100,000 increased by 760 percent, hitting an all-time high of 439 last year.
In 1995, the LAFD spent a “budget-wrenching” $58.6 million on overtime pay.
In 2008, that number hit $139 million, which prompted a recently retired fire captain to call for an overhaul of the department’s staffing system, according to the DailyNews.
Now at $197 million — which represents a more than twofold increase since 1995, after adjusting for inflation — overtime pay constitutes 31 percent of LAFD’s expenses, according to the City’s adopted budget for the 2016 fiscal year.
Admittedly, the LAFD's payouts are particularly egregious. By comparison, only one fire employee in the entire state of Nevada received a six-figure OT payout last year: Carson City fire captain Matthew Donnelly, who earned $110,217 in overtime pay, according to TransparentNevada.com. But firefighter salaries nationwide have long been a millstone around the neck of municipal governments which have struggled to keep up with what one Michigan official called “above market” salaries enjoyed by fire department employees.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that any time a city government considers cutting firefighter salaries — or, more likely, not increasing salaries — the public unions that lobby for pay hikes claim the city is sacrificing public safety and disrespecting the “heroes” who deserve six-figure salaries and fat pensions, no matter what.
In Los Angeles, however, any reform in this arena will require years of unwinding intricate contracts that are heavily slanted in favor of government employees and against taxpayers. For example, a contract provision with the LAFD requires vacation leave to count as hours worked toward overtime pay illustrates the root cause of the department’s soaring overtime costs, according to Robert Fellner of Transparent California:
The issue is not a lack of solutions. Those have been forthcoming from a coalition of experts, including those from LAFD’s own ranks, for decades. The issue is lack of a political will for the precise reason an official outlined nearly two decades ago: fear of political retaliation.
Unfortunately, public unions have weaponized the trust bestowed upon the firefighting profession as a means to enrich themselves, at the expense of public safety and taxpayers alike.
Blindfolded • 13 days ago
Firefighters, police, and teachers are the first line of defense when your government's budget is called into question.
Its almost as if special interest like Public Unions disseminate irrational arguments to emotional voters just to prevent a real discussion of real facts regarding the monopoly services their members provide at a exorbitant cost that fleeces the taxpayers.
Who would fight the fires!?!
Who would provide security!?!
Who would teach your children!?!
“Those who are capable of tyranny are capable of perjury to sustain it.”
― Lysander Spooner
noah • 13 days ago
"But don't let these facts get in the way of the romantic view of firefighting perpetuated by popular culture."
Well, "the romantic view" presented by CutsADoozie is that all this excessive pay is a good thing, because it represents INCOME. What do people do with income? They SPEND it! All consumer spending is good, so long as it is funded by indebted local and state governments, who can get bailed out by the federal government, which IS NOT REVENUE CONSTRAINED. These firefighters should be costing us nothing!
The REAL economy is, of course, constrained by the fact that resources are limited and that diverting them AWAY from the most productive and beneficial uses helps drive up the prices of the things people most need, like food and shelter and fuel.
The goal of CutsADoozie is to have MORE firefighters sitting on their asses, spending freshly printed money, as a means to get potentially productive people OFF their asses, by way of increasing phony fiat-based demand. Why not skip the middleman, CutsADoozie, and just have the public employees get paid less money to do something more productive?
CutsADoozie prefers to have 100 people labor away to produce the same amount of market-desired goods and services that 10 people could.
LaughingTarget • 13 days ago
There should be a direct relationship between overtime and the number of major structural or land fires going on at the time. I don't see those fire captains spending 90 hours a week out beating back major forest fires. Just more graft and corruption to justify a bigger budget next year.
Phil Miller LaughingTarget • 13 days ago
"I don't see those fire captains spending 90 hours a week out beating back major forest fires."
There's even more graft and corruption in the United States Forest Service fire suppression budget. It has grown astronomically over the years, and it's a way to keep the Department of Ag's budget bloated.
The tools used--especially air tankers--are of dubious benefit; given that forest fires occur naturally and many need fire to be healthy, the emphasis on suppression, particularly far from the urban-wildland interface, is ridiculous.
Those who choose to build their dwellings in pine forests that have a natural wildfire cycle of three to 20 years should pay the price for suppression, not city-dwelling taxpayers.
Bill Robbins • 11 days ago
Sending out EMT vehicles accompanied by a fire truck seems like an inefficient and costly use of resources. Why not increase the number of trained EMTs and paramedics and increase the size of the ambulance fleet?
JRA • 11 days ago
"recently retired fire captain to call for an overhaul of the department’s staffing system"
I love how they get a conscience after they've gotten off with their loot.
Col. Edward H. R. Green expertrider • 13 days ago
Real fiscal responsibility can only be truly achieved by privatizing fire-fighting, medical calls, personal and residential security, education, infrastructure construction and maintenance, and everything else that people have been indoctrinated since childhood to believe that government "must" provide, and no less at their forced expense via coercive income and real estate taxes.