The overtime is due to many reasons including covering shifts because of COVID-19, operating community testing and vaccination sites and staffing shortages.
SEATTLE — The city of Seattle paid firefighters, EMTs and paramedics $37.7 million worth of overtime in 2021.
According to the Seattle Department of Firefighters (SDF), the overtime is due to many reasons including covering shifts because of COVID-19, operating community testing and vaccination sites and staffing shortages.
The shortages were exacerbated by retirements and the vaccine mandate. Firefighters and all other healthcare workers are required to have the COVID-19 vaccine. Schedules were also impacted when firefighters were out sick with or tested positive for COVID-19.
The operation of multiple COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites and mobile vaccination programs also impacted staffing.
Staffing for special events like Kraken hockey games and the West Seattle Bridge closure also put a strain on staffing.
The SDF said another reason for the high overtime costs was the implementation of the Health One program. The program is designed to have firefighters respond to individuals immediately in their moment of need and determine whether they need medical care, mental health care, shelter or other social services. The program requires one or two firefighters to be staffed at each of the three units in operation.
SDF said it needs between 216 and 220 firefighters on duty every day. The department only met the minimum requirement 32% of the time in 2021.
To get to full staffing, Seattle Fire Department needs 1,083 budgeted positions. They currently have 1,026 firefighters. However, 68 of them are in the recruit school, meaning they’re down 125 full-time firefighters.
Despite the millions in overtime pay, the department said there has been no notable impact on response times during the staffing shortage.
Chief Harold Scoggins said the city’s first responders are committed to serving the community.
“I’m incredibly proud that so many of them have stepped up to work overtime shifts to keep our units in service for responding to emergencies,” Scoggins said. “While it’s not ideal for our members to be working mass amounts of overtime, they have signed up to work in a time when it’s been needed most.”