The New Haven Fire and Police Departments are spending less money on overtime pay thanks to new staff increases.
The NHFD’s and the NHPD’s most recent monthly financial reports, which were submitted to Mayor Toni Harp at the end of March, demonstrate that overtime costs in those two departments have already decreased since new hires were made last December, said City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer. In anticipation of these savings, Harp’s proposed budget for the 2015–16 fiscal year, presented to the Board of Alders in March, reduces the NHPD’s overtime cost budget from $4.4 million to $3 million and lowers NHFD overtime costs from $3.9 million to $1.7 million.
“[The new hires] allowed the fire department to begin filling shifts with firefighters with straight time rather than overtime. The savings started to accumulate instantly and dramatically,” Grotheer said.
After she was elected mayor of New Haven, but before her inauguration, Harp learned of the “staggering overtime costs in the NHPD,” City Budget Chief Joe Clerkin said.
After a peak in staffing in 2001, the number of vacant positions in the fire department began increasing as a number of firefighters retired. Last October, a third of the fire department’s 370 positions were unfilled.
To counteract this decline, Clerkin said that a new class of roughly 40 firefighters joined the NHFD in December 2014 after completing a training course. A second class is set to graduate next month, and there are plans to hire a third class during this calendar year, said Clerkin. The police academy has graduated two classes of new officers since Harp took office.
The firefighter’s union’s collective bargaining agreement stipulates that a total of 280 fire fighters are working at all times in the city, with 70 working at each of the department’s four divisions. The police department does not have these requirements because its staffing needs are more variable, said Clerkin, although he added that the police department had made similar staffing changes at Harp’s request.
“It was very possible that each division was down 20 or more firefighters each night,” Director of Labor Relations Marcus Paca said, referring to the state of the department before the staffing increases. Across the city, the NHFD was filling 40 to 80 positions every day with firefighters who were working overtime.
To expand the staff of the fire department last year, the department needed to make available additional Firefighter 1 positions, the largest segment of the department. To do so, employees who then occupied the Firefighter 1 position were eligible for promotions to lieutenant and captain positions after passing promotional exams. The format of these exams was negotiated in September and October 2014 between the city and the firefighter’s union. The tests consist of a written portion, weighed at 65 percent, and an oral section, weighed at 35 percent. The test also includes questions that seek to determine the psychological state of the firefighter.
“I felt and still feel that anything can be accomplished through compromise and having an open mind about working with people,” Paca said. “That wasn’t always the position of the administration in the past.”
Fire Chief Allyn Wright could not be reached for comment on the overtime changes.
The New Haven Fire Department was organized as a paid department in 1862.