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Fire Dept. burns through half its overtime budget

Original post made on Dec 11, 2013

The Palo Alto Fire Department has burned through half of its annual overtime budget -- $718,000 -- during this fiscal year compared with $571,000 spent during this period last year. Many of the expenses came from everyday sources.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, December 11, 2013, 2:32 PM

Comments (24)

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Funny to read this article about Palo Alto's out-of-control Fire Department costs, and the next article about Palo Alto voters not wanting to support more bond issues.

Say, you don't think there's any pattern here do you?


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Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2013 at 6:44 pm

It's been about a year since the new fire chief was hired:

Web Link

In a statement, Keene lauded Nickel's "more than 25 years of experience in strategic planning and mentoring future leaders, as well as collaborating with the community."

"These skills are essential as we continue to move forward to build a sustainable model of fire service for the future," Keene said.

He will receive an annual salary of $184,830.
-----------------------------

Got to wonder why someone who is supposed to be as talented a manager as this fellow can't seem to keep the overtime expenditures in line?

> More than $40,000 in overtime was spent to train personnel
> for new positions to prepare for promotions to battalion chief,
> captain and apparatus operator later in the year.

Might be interesting to know why it costs so much in overtime to prepare people in the fire department for being promoted. Given how few fires occur here in Palo Alto--why couldn't that training be conducted during normal hours?

Interesting also that the Fire Chief is not named in this article. Presumably he is the source of this information?


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Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 11, 2013 at 9:38 pm

The year is almost over, and they are only half way through their budgeted overtime. So good for them. If they were over budget, then there would be a story.


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Posted by Josh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Mr. Recycle- it is a fiscal year the report is commenting on. Fiscal years start July 1st in most cases.


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Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 12, 2013 at 1:20 am

Fair enough, it just seems like an excuse for a clever headline, not a story. Budgeted overtime is meant to be used. We are through summer, and it should be downhill to the end of the year.


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Posted by Mr Wonderful
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 12, 2013 at 7:54 am

This is a pointless article. Budgets are made to be spent. If Stanford pays for 30.3 of the budget then why should this be any issue. Where does that 9 million dollars go to? The bigger question should be Stanford putting their fire contract out to bid. That's a potential 9 million dollar loss for the city that the administration and city council may lose due to cutting services in the city. Between stanford, ambulance transports, and the fire inspectors about half the budget is paid for. The real headline should be about how the fire department makes the city approx 14 million dollars a year and the city chooses to use it for other projects


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Posted by Tim
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 12, 2013 at 8:10 am

Mr. Wonderful, the Stanford contract is out to bid right now. The bid has them paying a lot less. Closer to less than 1 million dollars a year to staff their Stanford fire station. Good chance that Menlo Park will put a bid in too. Either way, this would be a big hit for the Palo Alto's fire budget if they lose the Stanford contract or it gets reduced.


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Posted by Fiscal Year
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 12, 2013 at 8:35 am

The city has a fiscal year that starts in July. That means Drcember is half way through the fiscal year. If the fire department and senior staff meant for the overtime budget to be spent, then it follows as very appropriate that half the budget would be spent half way through the year. Having spent only half the budget may actually mean that they will end the year without spending the entire overtime budget since the high fire danger season happens in late summer/early fall which occurs in the first half of the fiscal year.

Unless there is more to this, there is no story here which is actually pretty amazing in a city frought with so much mismanagement.


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Posted by Hogwash
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 12, 2013 at 9:38 am

This is a non-problem, so it should be a non-item.


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Posted by Mr Wonderful
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 12, 2013 at 9:52 am

That last paragraph is very interesting. The city wants to reduce service after 8 pm. They want to reduce service to all the paying citizens of Palo Alto. So if a house catches on fire or your loved one has a medical issue after 8, expect a bad outcome. There are so many articles about how much money the city is making but they keep on choosing to cut emergency services. There is a good chance a fire engine in your neighborhood might not be staffed at night. Is that what you would want?


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Posted by This is ubsurd
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 12, 2013 at 10:53 am

This is complete mismanagement.

The fire department has plenty of free time during the day since most stations only respond to a few calls a day. Why can't they accomplish training in their free time. The city has soething like 25 fire people around every day all day.

I thought the changes in staffing were going to solve this. Sounds like it made it worse.

Vacation, sick and all the other things are routine in nature so that is a stupid justification.


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Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 12, 2013 at 11:09 am

Time to privatize the fire department. This department serves mostly the pay and pension needs of itself, not the City. And firetrucks should not be responding to routine emergency medical calls. Waste.


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Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2013 at 11:15 am

Agree that fire personnel have a dangerous job at times (like our military).
But it's also true that they have many quiet days. Their compensation is over the top, especially when you factor in early retirement (after 20 years), full pension & health benefits.

This fire chief looks like a doozy!

We should use Cal Fire. They are private and have reduced costs big time.
Enough already.


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Posted by Know the facts
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 12, 2013 at 12:00 pm

"This is absurd"
Firefighters do train on duty during normal time. When they talk about training it is when a captain wants to be a battalion chief. The captain needs to shadow the Chief to learn how to do the job. The captain needs to be taken off his normal engine to learn how to do that job. The overtime comes from having to fill his normal vacancy.


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Posted by Cid Young
a resident of another community
on Dec 12, 2013 at 12:55 pm

"And firetrucks should not be responding to routine emergency medical calls. Waste."
That was my impression too, but if the Fire Fighter/EMTs leave the station on a medical call and then a Fire call comes in while out of the station, they still need to be ready to go directly to a fire with their full equipment... so they take the big rig out, even on a medical response call.

On the Coast we have a point of sale mandatory smoke detector ordinance required when a home sells, but they send two guys in a huge truck for that too. The fuel alone for that trip is not covered by the inspection fee, but ... if, while on an inspection call, they'd got a call that YOUR house was on fire, you'd be glad they had that big truck with them so they could quickly leave and go directly to the next location.

We have CAL FIRE on the Coast. They budget for "planned over-time" such as covering other positions for vacation, out of area disaster coverage during fire season, sick time, vacancies, training and, yes, workman's compensation "out" times. We save money, however, because they know most of these things will normally occur during the year, and they send in Fire Fighters from through-out the CAL FIRE coverage areas to cover expected vacations etc, and thus don't eat up "un-planned" overtime budgeted monies. Other FF Unions see overtime as a "perk" to be milked to the max. When we had a different union running our F F services on the Coast, they routinely had one guy scheduled, call in sick so then his "buddy" would be called up to "cover" the sick leave vacancy for that shift at time and a half. Then, the guy who had covered would get his turn to call in sick, so the other "buddy" could get pay back and receive overtime as well. A slick deal to bump up your earnings, no?

No one caught this part of the article "Eight members of the fire department have been on paid leave for workers' compensation this quarter, compared to four in the same period last year, according to a report from the city manager's office. The department also had four vacancies on its front line compared to two last year."

It is a common ploy to have to go out on PAID workmen's comp. Yes, it's a tough job, but DOUBLE last years quarterly claims? And vacant positions demand over time. Why not hire more Fire Fighters? (To avoid unneccessary overtime.)

Also, the article said they would reduce overtime costs from 8PM to 8AM. Not service. Why pay a guy overtime merely to sleep at the fire station?


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Posted by ????
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 12, 2013 at 2:16 pm

What is a routine medical call? Who should go to medical calls? An ambulance only? There is a reason fire engines go because you need all the man power you can get. There isn't an abundance of ambulances. If they are at a hospital you have firefighters that can go and begin treatment while they wait for an ambulance.
If Palo Alto privatizes their service they will lose out on millions of dollars from Stanford and ambulance transport. If you account the money PAFD makes (roughly 14 million), they actually are a really cheap department to run. If you lose that revenue any private or state department will cost way more than what we cost right now.


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Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2013 at 4:14 pm

> No one caught this part of the article "Eight members of the fire
> department have been on paid leave for workers' compensation this
> quarter, compared to four in the same period last year,

Actually, this was discussed a month, or two, ago. Since then, there has been no information provided by the Fire Department as to why these injuries are so high. There have been no comments about plans to reduce these injuries by either additional training, more management, or some other means.

> Why pay a guy overtime merely to sleep at the fire station?

Why indeed! However, this is the standard procedure that firefighters have been able to negotiate over the years so that they can spend maybe three days per week (or so) on the job--leaving them four days to moonlight (if they want) somewhere else.

Sadly, we don't have a City Council that understands any of the other possibilities, and so things continue on as they are, and just get worse--year after year.


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Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2013 at 4:17 pm

> If Palo Alto privatizes their service they will lose out on millions
> of dollars from Stanford and ambulance transport.

It's hard to believe that Stanford is going to continue in this contract forever. And don't forget--the "millions of dollars" mentioned here are dollars coming out of our pockets. City governments should not be empowered to compete with the private sector, nor have the power go gouge the residents of the town that supposed to be serving.


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Posted by Time for a Change
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Dec 12, 2013 at 4:26 pm

So for such a non-eventful story, why did the new City of Palo Alto Communications Officer find it necessary to send a press release to the media regarding that a department has used half of their fiscally budgeted over-time costs half-way through the current fiscal year. Does her job really depend on sending press releases to the media to support the City Council's and City Manager's questionable opinions regarding certain departments within the city? What a shame that the City Manager/City Council are using the Communications Officer to promote their own agenda. What a pity!


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Let's see who Stanford replaces us with. Then let's switch to them too.


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Posted by Retired Staffer
a resident of another community
on Dec 12, 2013 at 11:28 pm

The reason why eight firefighters are off on compensation is because firefighters are always getting injured doing something--even weight training! The excessive (?) overtime is due to UNDERbudgeting normal department duties and activities. This is a trick the City Manager uses to get appropriations for some other activity. Finally, outsourcing. The fake interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial was outsourced. He was not an employee of the South African government.


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Posted by Pepe
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 13, 2013 at 2:15 am

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2013 at 11:40 am

> The reason why eight firefighters are off on compensation is because
> firefighters are always getting injured doing something
> --even weight training!

So .. just how much weight trainging are firefighters/EMS types required to perform on duty? And if your point is that these people can get injured--they could easily get hurt skying, or scuba diving, or sky diving--and that would make them unavailable for duty, wouldn't it?

This topic has come up before, but there has not been any evidence that all firefighters/EMS types are seeing disabling injuries in all departments--as here in Palo Alto. Do you remember the Santa Clara County Grand Jury report that was released not to long ago that suggested that Palo Alto has a higher injury rate than surrounding cities? Did the Fire Department ever respond to why Palo Alto should have a higher injury rate, either by definition, or by reason?

> The excessive (?) overtime is due to UNDERbudgeting
> normal department duties and activities.

And what about unreasonable Union-imposed work rules? Might these have any impact on staffing levels?


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Posted by Walter White
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 14, 2013 at 10:30 am

It's bad management. Whenever you see bad management cause a problem, and the peeps on the street blame the workers, it's an overreaction by the uninformed.


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