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Columbus officials plan to add $75,000 to the fire department’s overtime budget and have changed policies to cover shifts lost to ill or injured firefighters.
Jeff Logston, the city’s director of finance and administration, said the department’s 94 firefighters used 420 sick days in the first six months of this year.
Covering for those lost days has depleted the department’s overtime pay funds, which were budgeted at $306,000 for the year. Only about $20,000 remains, he said.
The City Council last week gave its first approval for an additional $75,000 appropriation for the overtime funds. Of that, $35,000 would go to the fund for scheduled overtime and $40,000 would be slated for unscheduled overtime. The $75,000 will be transferred from unused money in the department’s other personnel funds.
Firefighters are paid time-and-a-half for overtime shifts, Logston said. Without the additional funds, the department would not be able to cover for the injured or ill firefighters and would be short-staffed.
The department has taken steps to address the high use of overtime, Logston and Fire Chief Dave Allmon said.
Until this year, the department did not have light or limited-duty classifications and firefighters with long-term injuries were simply off work. And the department had no written job descriptions for firefighters. Which meant the department could not identify which jobs could be performed by firefighters with less than full physical abilities.
“We implemented a light-
duty plan for the fire department so that as individuals did gain back some functionability they would come back in and the city would receive some value for their services,” Logston said.
Allmon has since written job descriptions that identified those duties and was able to move firefighters back to work in less physically demanding jobs. For example, an injured firefighter was able to return to work to fill a job as a fire inspector, the chief said. Other injured firefighters have operated Tilly, the department’s miniature fire truck used for
educational purposes, Allmon said.
The department also has begun working more closely with firefighters and the city’s insurer to communicate with injured firefighters, Logston said. The department is now working to make sure firefighters get healthy the right way and to encourage them to come back to work as soon as possible.
As of last week, all of the department’s injured firefighters have returned to duty, Logston said.
Mayor Kristen Brown said that barring a disaster or an inordinate amount of injuries, the $75,000 should cover the department’s overtime for the rest of the year.
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