Detailed review of fire department overtime expense draws no reaction from City Council

LACONIA — For some timem the cost of overtime at the Fire Department has puzzled and concerned the City Council, especially Councilors Henry Lipman (Ward 3), who chairs the Finance Committee, and Bob Hamel (Ward 5). But when Fire Chief Ken Erickson broke down the cost of overtime for the councilors on Monday night, no one questioned his presentation.

Overtime at the Fire Department fell into seven categories — holiday pay, Motorcycle Week, time-off, extra duty, required training, ambulance staffing and billable details — the cost of which is shared between the city and LRGHealthcare according to their agreement for staffing and operating the ambulance service.

The total ran to nearly $600,000 in calendar year 2013; $435,610 without holiday pay and Bike Week included in the total. The city's share of the second number totaled up to $248,685.

Holiday pay, Erickson explained, is not for routine shift coverage. Since firefighters, unlike most city employees, must work all holidays, each union employee receives ten hours holiday pay for the day off with pay while those employees who work receive an additional five hours pay. In 2013 holiday pay amounted to $116,365, of which LRGH contributed $16,714.

During Motorcycle Week the city provides one extra firefighter, primarily on both weekends. Throughout the ten days of the rally LRGH provides two extra firefighters, staffing one ambulance at The Weirs for 18 shifts. On both weekends LRGH provides for one paramedic assigned to the ATV on Lakeside Avenue and another in a staff car. During the last weekend an additional ambulance is in service and one more EMT is added to each of three embulances. The cost of overtime during the rally was $45,589, of which LRGH paid $22,137.

Erickson said that the single largest component of overtime is keeping each station fully staffed 365 days a year. In 2013 there was coverage for 290 vacation shifts at $118,736, 114 personnel shifts at $45,837, 71 sick shifts at $57,469, and 87 injury shifts at $30,761, which altogether amounted to $242,743. Injury time is reimbursed by Woprker's Compensation at a rate of 34-percent, or $10,500 last year, and LRGH paid another $42,980.

The cost of extra duty, including recalls, fires, storms and distant transports, was $68,585, of which LRGH contributed $23,538. Both EMT-Advanced and EMT-Paramedic require semi-annual training for recertification while firefighters also require off-site training. Covering the stations for crews out-of-service cost $52,680. LRGH met the cost of $38,304 for training EMTs. LRGH pays the $51,282 to provide peak staffing Monday through Saturday as well as to put an ambulance in service on major summer holidays, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

Finally, the $20,321 incurred in providing special details for the circus, fireworks and some training exercises, was remibursed.