The Kern County Fire Department has come under scrutiny after an article published this weekend in the Bakersfield Californian questioned the overtime pay system the department employs.
Several members of Kern County Fire made over $100,000 in overtime wages on top of their base salary.
This comes at a time when Kern County Fire Department Chief Brian Marshall has suggested that county budget troubles could lead to fire station closures and even job cuts.
But he said even though the numbers are large, they are saving the county money.
"We use to have extra firefighters that were on the floor, waiting to fill in at positions such as vacation and sick leave spots. We actually had 64 extra firefighters," Marshall said. "Those went away in favor of using overtime at a lesser rate."
Filling vacation and sick days requires calling people in who may have the day off, especially since a fire department requires a minimum of three employees to be present at all times, according to Marshall.
The Kern County Auditors Office says a lawsuit for overtime pay several years ago led to a settlement that enables these high overtime numbers -- and ended up with a 28 day pay cycle instead of an 18 day cycle that lines up more with a firefighter's work schedule.
"If they would just claim an 18 day cycle, as opposed to the 28 day cycle, that would even out the hourly rate for their overtime," Kern County Auditor-Controller-County Clerk Mary Bedard said. "That would say, we estimated, that would save over $500,000."
Chief Marshall said he is open to possible changes.
"We are looking at some of the options to reduce some of these numbers such as holiday pay or hours worked," he said.
Kern County Fire Captain Tyler Townsend, who was named in the article as having earned the most overtime in the county for 2015 at $174,266, had this statement published in the California article:
“I was not aware that I earned the most overtime pay in Kern County last year. I suppose that is one achievement where it is better to come in second.
Along with earning the most OT pay, however, I probably also worked more hours than any other county employee. As you know, during the week I serve as our public information officer. When I am called to an incident after hours, a two-hour minimum is warranted. When you get called out as much as I do, and work as much as I do, the hours add up.
I was at the Erskine Fire from Day One and delivered critical information to the public for the next 13 days. As a captain, I also have the opportunity to work at fire stations on weekends or holidays when openings arise. These openings may be that another fire captain uses vacation, sick leave or is sent to an incident.
In any case, I love these opportunities, because I love running calls, I love helping people, and I love being a firefighter.
I make myself available to work through our computer staffing program just about every weekend. Given that I have the most hours, I only get called to work if nobody else wants to. Not a lot of people like to work Christmas and New Years, but I did last year.
Someone has to fill that position, otherwise we are not able to respond when you call 9-1-1. I am hoping that you will reconsider your plan on writing about how much money I made, but if you do decide to print my comments, please share every word.”
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