Burning through Overtime: Which Boise City employees are making bank?

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - The Truth Squad recently did an investigation into the top 50 earners in Boise city government based on base salary. In the process of pouring over the numbers, we discovered that list looks very different when you factor in overtime.

If you take a look at the top 50 wage earners for fiscal year 2013, based on base salary alone you'll find seven firefighters, 19 police officers and 24 workers from other city departments. But when you look at gross pay, which includes overtime, the number of firefighters on the list jumps to 29, police officers drop to 13 positions, leaving just eight city workers from all other departments in the top 50.

If you look at the top 10 earners based on base salary, you'll only find one firefighter and that's the chief. When factoring in overtime, the number of firefighters in the top 10 jumps to eight.

Some other notable observations, the amount of money being made is eye popping. One firefighter more than doubled his salary and a handful of others came close. For example, the fire captain at the top of the list made $148,592 last year, his base salary is $70,798.

Truth Squad reporter Brian Morrin went to Boise Fire Department headquarters to find out why so many firefighters are getting so much overtime.

"The reasons we had so many openings (were because?), we had a whole bunch of retirees, we were making sure we were hiring the proper amount and we were looking at those numbers to try to bring the overtime and costs down," Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan said.

"I think it started in 2009, they asked us if we would forego hiring for a period of time until the economy bounced back, I think it happened approximately 24 times and so we were down approximately 24 firefighters during that four year period," said Greg Womack, Firefighter Union President.

A firefighter's salary is based on a six day week with 48 on the clock in a row followed by 96 hours off (four days). But the firefighters in the top 50 earners list are spending many of those off hours on the job.

"They worked a lot of hours and that's their lifestyle choice. They may not have kids at home and others choose not to work any overtime at all while some want to work a lot of overtime," Doan said.

Firefighting is inherently dangerous work. The Truth Squad wanted to know if working the extra hours puts the firefighters or the public in jeopardy.

"I'm completely confident our firefighters are safe, they look out for each other," Doan said.

"We work 48 hours at a time with four days off, 96 hours off, during that time most people work overtime that middle second or third day so they have a day of rest in between (their regular shifts)," Womack said.

The department has hired 27 firefighters over the past 15 months and is looking to hire three more. Overtime in fiscal year 2014 is expected to drop.

"We're always looking for that sweet spot just like any business.. how many people should we have.. staff versus how much overtime we have available," Doan said.

"I think we have a tentative agreement that if we get down six firefighters we'll put on a recruit class so I think the combination of filling those spots, putting on recruit classes sooner, I think this ship will right itself," Womack said.

The Boise Fire Department's budget for fiscal year 2013 was $45 million, just over $3 million of it went to pay for overtime.