The signs, two panels of a rotating digital billboard that loom over one of Gwinnett County’s most traveled intersections, cut straight to the chase.
“Firefighters have families,” one says in all caps. “Over $15 million tax dollars spent on mandatory overtime in 34 months.”
“Stop Mandatory Overtime in the Fire Dept!” the other declares.
The Gwinnett County fire department has a policy that embraces the “planned, budgeted use of overtime” and, since the start of 2014, has spent north of $18 million to pay for that extra work. Officials say it’s all part of a plan to increase the quality of services offered to the county and will end when the department’s several current recruit classes finish their training.
But that won’t be until the first part of 2019, they say. And the man behind the billboard at Ga. 20 and Ga. 316 — former Gwinnett firefighter Michael Flanigan — thinks that’s not good enough.
“If you keep asking them and asking them and asking them to do stuff,” Flanigan said, “and you keep extending [the overtime program], it does not give the firefighters of this county a good vibe of what”s going on.”
Some of his former colleagues like the extra money overtime brings, Flanigan admits. But many are also frustrated and tired with the policy that forces them to sign up for as many as 10 24-hour overtime shifts each year.
Flanigan, a 10-year veteran who left the department last summer, said that, in less than two hours, current firefighters contributed enough money to pay for a month of his billboard.
Over the last several years, Gwinnett’s fire department has added a handful of stations, and has brought on new medical units at existing stations. Because about 75 percent of the department’s calls are medical-related, it’s also now mandated that all recruits become trained both as firefighters and as certified paramedics. That lengthens the training process from 12 months to 16.
Fire officials say all of that means there’s got to be some sort of measure to keep things going until the last of 116 current recruits are ready to hit the road. Overtime it is, to the tune of millions each year: nearly $3.5 million in 2014; about $4.7 million in 2015; almost $5.3 million in 2016; and about $4.6 million so far in 2017.
“During this period, the county is covering shifts with the planned, budgeted use of overtime until the recruits complete their training and are assigned to a station,” fire department spokesman Capt. Tommy Rutledge said in an emailed statement.
That won’t happen until mid-2019, Rutledge said, meaning current firefighters have another year-plus of overtime shifts to work.
That doesn’t sit well with Flanigan, who is also upset the county’s fire department personnel weren’t included in the raises recently granted to other public safety agencies in Gwinnett.
Firefighters and paramedics will get the 3 percent raise granted last month to all county employees, but won’t receive the additional 4 percent bump promised to members of the police department, sheriff’s office, corrections department and emergency 911 center.
“Why would you exclude firefighters from a public safety raise knowing that they’re already being forced to work overtime due to staffing in the stations?” Flanigan said.
Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash has used the attrition issues of the police department and sheriff’s office in particular to justify their raises. The fire department, which has an authorized strength of 916 employees, currently has just seven vacant positions, Rutledge said.
Nash will present her proposed 2018 county budget later this month.
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