LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - For the past few years the Lake Charles firefighter's overtime pay has gotten out of control, by as much as one million dollars. Fire Chief, Keith Murray is looking into ways to trim down the overtime budget. Many factors go into overtime pay; vacation, extended sick leave, and funeral absences. But, one of the biggest contributors to the problem is daily sick leave.
As part of state law, due to the dangerous nature of the job, firefighters get 52 weeks of sick leave, that is 365 days a year. But, that benefit can lead to abuse of the system. New Fire Chief, Keith Murray is looking at ways to keep overtime down to a reasonable cost.
"It is a privilege to have that kind of benefit in place, to where you can protect your firemen. It is deplorable to think that there would be people out there using it in that fashion. I can't think of policing it enough, to make sure that benefit stays in place, to protect the way it should. So that way, if they are out there protecting people, and they get hurt, then they are going to have enough time to get well. We won't have to worry about that benefit going away because of someone treating it badly," said Chief Murray.
Chief Murray says the fire department will begin what it calls, 'working up' to control overtime. 'Working up' means if a fire fighter calls in sick, the chain of command, on the same shift moves up a step. This continues all the way down to the lowest man on the list, and that person would receive the overtime pay. This prevents a higher paid person from getting the overtime. If all of these options are used, and more changes still have to be made, the fire department will do what is called a 'brown out,' which means a ladder truck will be pulled from operation for one day. The crew on the ladder truck would be reassigned to another, more useful position.
"Many of the other communities only have three ladder trucks. And so, if we are looking at browning out two of our five, that still leaves us with three. He believes that is not jeopardizing public safety at all," said John Cardone with the City of Lake Charles.