Police Chief Edward Garone said, “My number one job is to protect the life and property of the citizens of Derry. To do so, I need to protect my officers.”
Garone and Fire Chief George Klauber attended the Aug. 19 Town Council meeting at the request of Councilors to discuss their overtime (OT) budgets. Both said they were running the smallest crews they could without compromising the safety of Derry residents.
Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau introduced the topic, saying it was a question that came out of a Council workshop July 1. “The Council wanted to better understand how the OT budget works and is utilized,” he said.
Garone said salaries are 93 percent of his budget. The overtime depends on who’s absent, he said, noting that supervisory OT is available only to supervisors, patrol OT to patrol officers, and so on.
Garone said OT is allotted on a revolving basis. When it’s available, the supervising officer goes to a list. If the first person on the list declines, he or she goes to the bottom of the list; if the next person declines, he or she goes to the bottom; and the supervisor keeps calling until someone accepts the overtime shift. Overtime is assigned to replace personnel in planned absences, emergencies, training and court appearances, he said.
“We have limits,” Garone said. The officers can only work a 72-hour work week, and after a 16-hour double shift they are required to take eight hours off.
Budreau had provided the Council with lists of staff members and how much OT they worked last year. Councilor Michael Fairbanks observed that it varied, from one staff member earning $2,000 in overtime to the highest earner, $26,000.
Garone differentiated between regular Derry Police overtime and outside details, in which an outside firm or another town pays Derry personnel to come in. Every officer, including supervisors, is eligible for “detail” work, he said – but the base rate is the same for everyone, Step IV patrolman pay.
Councilor Joshua Bourdon asked, “Do you have any ideas to bring the overtime down?”
Garone currently runs four patrols per shift. To run three would compromise safety for both residents and officers, he said.
He could cut back on training, he said, and save OT money that way. But there’s nothing he can do about court appearances, which accounted for $60,000 of OT in last year’s budget.
For Klauber, the goal of having overtime is to maintain the level of service at Derry’s four fire stations. “I want to keep each station operating 24/7, with 16 firefighters on duty for each shift,” he said. In the last fiscal year, he accomplished his 16/24/7 goal only 48 percent of the time, he said.
The four battalion chiefs manage the OT and set aside Monday nights for filling the slots of the known vacancies. “The battalion chiefs first offer the time to persons who have the least amount of OT hours,” he said, and they work their way through a list. Though he tries to maintain 16 per shift, he often makes do with 15 due to training requirements, planned absences and unplanned emergencies.
Klauber said he’s been cracking down on staff members who call in at the last minute. They are subject to discipline, he said.
Klauber could cut his OT line drastically if he could maintain the 16/24/7 ratio, he said. But to do that on a regular basis, he would have to hire four more firefighters, and that, at an estimated $400,000, would not be cost-effective for the town.
Klauber does not have an assistant chief and relies on the battalion chiefs for some administrative duties. For example, Battalion Chief Mike Gagnon is orchestrating the gift of a generator from Verizon to the Central Fire Station. Gagnon works on the paperwork for the generator beyond his normal shift, according to Klauber. “We could bring in another chief administrative officer and reduce the administrative work,” he said.
Like Garone, he said safety is compromised, the smaller he goes. The department gets an average of 12 calls a day, he said. Last year there were 1,882 calls, and on 477 occasions there were two calls at once; on 204 occasions there were three calls at once: 88 times, there were four calls at once; and 77 times, there were five or more calls at the same time. “When it’s appropriate the shift commander does a recall, and calls off-duty firefighters back in,” he said.
Vacations also account for a shorter staff, Klauber said. In summer he can see as many as four officers out. “And school vacation – “ouch, that hurts,” Klauber said.
Councilor Tom Cardon asked if Klauber could consider setting up a volunteer department. But Klauber said it would be difficult to build one from scratch, noting that it takes 120 to 240 hours for a person to qualify as a Firefighter I. He’s also looking for staff members who can fill the role of paramedic, another 2,000 hours of training, he said.
Both chiefs agreed that overtime has changed since they started out in their respective fields. There are lifestyle changes, Garone said. Some staff members can’t accept overtime because they have to watch children while a spouse works, while others cherish their free time more than the extra money.
“Sometimes we have to order people to stay because we can’t fill a shift,” he said. In other situations, such as weather emergencies, staff members are called back and given overtime if they’ve already worked their regular hours.
“People value their time off, “Klauber agreed.
Both chiefs credited Controller Janice Mobsby with helping them develop the statistics.
Councilors thanked the chiefs for coming in.