NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Firefighters in Newport News say a policy change leading to mandatory overtime is hurting families, and if the city doesn’t act, it could hurt the department itself.
In late spring, Interim Fire Chief Scott Liebold began enforcing a policy that prevents officers in the department (lieutenants and captains) from covering non-supervisor shifts for overtime.
“It’s cost,” Liebold said. “We will exceed $3 million in overtime this year. We were only budgeted $950,000.”
Officers are paid at a higher wage, thus their overtime costs taxpayers more, according to Liebold.
However, members of the Newport News Professional Firefighters showed up by the dozens Tuesday night to city hall to send the message that the savings in overtime are causing firefighters to work more overtime themselves.
While overtime is still given on a volunteer basis, once the volunteer list runs out, firefighters are being required to work. That is sometimes leading to a firefighter being at the firehouse for 72 hours.
“Every 9 days I have the possibility of working an extra 24-hour shift,” said David Gourley, a Newport News firefighter. “It puts a strain on family life.”
The fire department currently has 37 vacancies, according to Liebold. Retirements and firefighters leaving the department has left a void.
New recruits are currently in training and another class is expected to begin before the year is out Liebold said. But it could still take more than a year to fill all vacancies.
“I know what I signed up for,” Gourley said. “But I don’t get to say goodnight to my kids because we are too busy, and to do that three nights in a row? That is personal at that point.”
Gourley fears more people will look for other jobs in the region if something is not done soon.
Several city councilors expressed their appreciation for the firefighters and assured them that the city manager would do what she could to find a solution.