The requirements of public fire protection are unique. In order to provide a rapid response of fire and EMS personnel to an emergency 24 hours a day / 7 days a week, most departments utilize a 24 hour-on / 48 hour-off shift rotation. In Kentucky, cities of the first and second class are required to use this shift rotation schedule by KRS Chapter 95. Firefighters work an average of 56 hours each week. This results in some overtime being a part of a firefighter’s pay. This “scheduled” overtime is included in the firefighter’s annual salary calculations.
Unscheduled overtime is paid when a firefighter works additional shifts to cover other firefighters use of vacation or sick time, as well as when a firefighter cannot work because of an on-duty injury. In 2004, vacant firefighter positions required unscheduled overtime to maintain on-duty staffing until new firefighters were hired. In September 2005, the City of Newport sent two fire department personnel to assist with the response efforts of Hurricane Katrina for 30 days, which also added to the unscheduled overtime costs.
The economic realities of the last few years have forced the city to cut costs in every area of local government. In June 2008, the members of IAFF Local 45 were asked to accept a reduction in the number of firefighters on-duty each day. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed with the City of Newport to amend the firefighter contract clause on staffing requirements for Fiscal Year 2008 – 2009.
Due to the slow progress of economic recovery, the city asked IAFF Local 45 to accept a second reduction to on-duty shift staffing for FY 2009 – 2010. A second MOU was signed and is set to expire on June 30, 2010. The current MOU allows the on-duty staffing to drop from 12 firefighters per day to 10 firefighters per day before the city must pay unscheduled overtime to maintain minimum staffing. The city also requested to keep two firefighter vacancies unfilled to save additional money on firefighter salaries. The fire department has all but cut out unscheduled overtime for off-duty training and staffing of additional personnel for public events (excluding Riverfest).
City Manager Tom Fromme told union officials in the spring of 2008 that the City was entering tough times and would require cooperation through negotiation if the city were to emerge from the challenges of the upcoming years. IAFF Local 45 was encouraged when the City renewed the firefighter collective bargaining agreement in 2009 with the daily on-duty staffing of 12 firefighters. It is our hope that the city will be able to uphold its commitment to returning daily firefighter staffing to its previous levels when this economic drought has passed.