Rantz: Seattle Fire turns units offline, spends hundreds of thousands in overtime

Oct 31, 2021, 10:46 AM | Updated: Nov 1, 2021, 6:02 am
seattle fire...
(courtesy JvL via Flickr)
(courtesy JvL via Flickr)

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate has caused an historic staffing crisis within the Seattle Fire Department.

SFD is routinely turning units offline due to a lack of staff. The department is leaning on significant overtime hours to fill open 24-hour shifts. Not only does this lead to staff burnout, but SFD is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process. But it’s still not enough.

From engines to aid cars, the department can’t find enough staff to fill vacancies on weekends. The “brownouts” will likely extend into weekdays, stressing a department that was understaffed before the vaccine mandate.

While the mayor finally acknowledged the staffing crisis at the Seattle Police Department, she’s been silent about the SFD problems.

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Seattle Fire is turning units offline

SFD went into Halloween weekend knowing it would be down staff in significant numbers. Still, SFD is downplaying the crisis, claiming to have only separated from seven. Internally, however, Chief Harold Scoggins sounded some alarms.

“There will be shifts where staffing falls below 220, and we have to take units out of service,” Scoggins wrote in an all-staff email last Wednesday. “I want to encourage you to sign up for any overtime shifts you can work. We know weekend shifts are harder to fill, and with many special events happening and the holidays nearing, we will need your help even more.”

Saturday staffing was minimally impacted due to overtime. Still, two aid cars are out of service — one in Northgate and another in Downtown/Belltown. But according to two sources, at least the following units were offline due to staffing shortages on Sunday:

A-2 24hr Aid car Belltown
A-25 24 hr Aid car Capitol Hill
A-5 24 hr Aid car Pioneer Square
A4 12 hr Aid car Belltown
A31 12 hr Aid car Northgate
M-18 24 hr Medic Unit Ballard
E8 24 hr Engine Queen Anne
E32 24 Engine Alaska Junction/West Seattle

Additionally, one source says Rescue 1 is down one rescue tech, only running with three instead of four. Two of the online units were sent to the Seahawks game on Sunday.

“The city is without firefighters today,” one firefighter tells me. “Someone will die today as a result.”

Last weekend, they experienced similar issues. On Saturday, Oct. 23, SFD had five aid units and Air10 out of service, SFD confirmed. But it usually only confirms after constant prodding and public shaming. It knows when units are offline, but it withholds that information when initially asked.

SFD spending tens of thousands a day in overtime

Seattle Fire spends somewhere between $32,000 and $100,000 a day on overtime, depending on who you ask.

After downplaying the numbers of staff sidelined due to Durkan’s vaccine mandate, SFD now acknowledges the mandate impacted at least 84. This does not account for the early retirements before the vaccine mandate deadline hit. Of the 84, 72 are members of Operations, including firefighter/EMTs, firefighter/paramedics, and chief officers.

“If we average the 72 number across our four platoons (shifts), that equals approximately 18 overtime positions per day needing to be filled. With this estimate, the department is currently spending approximately $32,500 per day for overtime specifically as a result of the mandate,” SFD spokesperson Kristin Tinsley told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH via email.

Tinsley also acknowledges this number does not account for “additional overtime spots we fill daily due to current vacancies that is [sic] not accounted for in the above funding amount provided.”

$100,000 a day in overtime?

SFD Lieutenant Jeff Vale from the union thinks the department’s figures are low. He says it’s more like $100,000 a day.

“So they have called … 60-80 firefighters in those vacant seats who would normally be off that day, and they’re paying them time and a half to do so, and that equates to, conservatively, $100,000 a day in overtime. That’s totally unnecessary,” Vale said on the Jason Rantz Show, speaking personally and not on behalf of the SFD.

Vale notes his calculation includes the average pay of a firefighter, plus time and a half.

“And they’re long shifts, right? 24-hour shifts. And you’ve got paramedics who get paid more, you’ve got lieutenants who get paid more than the average firefighter. You’ve got captains who get paid even more than the average firefighter. And then you have the regular firefighters,” Vale explained. “So, yeah, I’m ballparking that average. That’s why I say conservatively $100,000 a day is what there is, what they’re approximately looking at right now over the weekend and today.”

Did you like this opinion piece? Then listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz  on  Twitter,  Instagram, and Parler, and like me on Facebook

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Rantz: Seattle Fire turns units offline, spends hundreds of thousands in overtime