City Council President Mary Pat Clarke summoned Fire Chief Peter J. O'Connor and city budget officials to a meeting today to discuss personnel-scheduling problems that caused the department to expend its annual overtime budget in one month.
As a result of the budget problem, the department has cut the crew on many fire vehicles from four people to three, inflaming firefighter unions and council members.
"Most of the time we have the [staffing problems] on weekends and holidays," said David Glenn, president of the Board of Fire Commissioners.
The department's move came just over a month after the council reconsidered a bill it passed requiring four-member fire crews on engines. The council referred the bill back to committee after the fire board approved a policy setting four-person crews on pumper engines and ladder trucks in all but the most unusual circumstances.
Glenn said the policy was amended Jan. 14 to allow the chief to determine each day if crews should have three or four members.
The change came after the department in December incurred $302,000 in overtime costs, Glenn said. During November, while the crews were at three-member levels, the department's overtime bill was only $10,000, he added.
Council members reacted sharply to the overtime bill.
"We don't know if this is a management problem or a labor problem, but something is drastically wrong," said Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi, D-6th, who introduced the manning bill.
"It is disturbing not only from a dollars-and-cents standpoint but also from a public-safety standpoint," said Councilman John A. Schaefer, D-1st, chairman of the budget and appropriations committee.
Fire union officials have said that three-member crews endanger lives by slowing efforts to begin fighting a fire. Fire Department officials say that three-person crews are safe and used in other cities.