Manitoba

Abundance of holiday time main factor in driving up firefighter overtime costs

Holiday time makes up the bulk of the absences that are driving up overtime costs for Winnipeg firefighters, according to a new report ordered up by council's finance committee.

More than 50 per cent of firefighters entitled to five or six weeks of paid time off, report reveals

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane (left, seated next to Winnipeg chief financial officer Mike Ruta) told council's finance committee in September that the city must hire more firefighters if it wishes to reduce overtime costs. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Holiday time makes up the bulk of the absences that are driving up overtime costs for Winnipeg firefighters, according to a new report ordered up by council's finance committee.

In September, former city council finance chair Marty Morantz (Charleswood-Tuxedo) asked Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Chief John Lane to explain why so many firefighters are unable to show up to work for any given shift.

At the time, Lane told the committee the WFPS tries to have 215 firefighters on shift at any given time but sometimes often fails to meet the minimum staffing level of 167 firefighters. Every time more than 48 are absent for a shift, the WFPS must pay overtime.

This year, the firefighter overtime tab is estimated to be $3.4 million, because the average number of absences is 50 per shift. When Lane said the city would have to hire 36 more firefighters to eliminate firefighter overtime altogether, Morantz asked for a more detailed breakdown of the absences.

That breakdown, published by the city Friday, reveals 69 per cent of the firefighter absences — about 34 out of the 50 average absences per day — are due to leave entitlements such as paid holidays.

Illnesses accounted for 16 per cent of the absences, while injuries — including those allowing firefighters to perform other, less physically demanding duties — made up seven per cent of the absences, according to the report, which comes before council's finance committee on Thursday.

Training (3.5 per cent), family illness (2.3 per cent), miscellaneous leaves (1.9 per cent) and bereavement (0.5 per cent) made up the remaining absences.

"It is important to note that personnel who return to work from injury or illness on modified duties most often cannot be placed in frontline positions, and therefore, in such cases, may still be noted on shift reports as absent due to sick leave or WCB," WFPS corporate controller John Hall and human-resources manager Lianne Mauws write in the report.

They also note holiday time only accounts for 44 per cent of paramedic absences. This is because more firefighters are entitled to lengthy holidays.

"Over 50 per cent of current fire personnel has sufficient years of service for entitlement to five to six tours/weeks of vacation. This compares to approximately 24 per cent of the current EMS personnel entitled to five-six tours/weeks of vacation," Hall and Mauws write.

Incoming city council finance chairman Scott Gillingham (St. James-Brooklands), who replaces Morantz next week, said he hopes the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg can help the city reduce the overtime tab without forcing the city to exceed its budget.

"The collective agreement is coming due and I'm wondering if there's an opportunity to have the union assist us in this matter, if it's a chronic issue," Gillingham said Friday.

UFFW president Alex Forrest has been asked to comment.

Abundance of holiday time main factor in driving up firefighter overtime costs

CBC News Manitoba

5 years ago
1:02
Holiday time makes up the bulk of the absences that are driving up overtime costs for Winnipeg firefighters, according to a new report ordered up by council's finance committee. 1:02

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