L.A. County Must Get a Handle on LAFD Overtime Pay

It will be several more months before a recently commissioned audit of the Los Angeles County Fire Department is complete. But, without doubt, much of its focus will be on the issue of excessive overtime pay.

An investigation by the Los Angeles Times shows that overtime costs at the LAFD have surged 36% over the past five years, with fire department employees now representing one-third of the county’s highest paid workers. The average overtime for an LAFD employee now comes out to $49,000 per year and accounts for more than a third of pay received by fire personnel. More than 640 LAFD employees received at least $100,000 in overtime in 2017.

LAFD’s highest earner last year was a battalion chief who earned a base salary of $175,000, plus $283,000 in overtime, bringing his total compensation to around $480,000. A fire captain in Compton took home the most in overtime — $322,000 for 7,449 hours— which pushed his base salary of $126,000 up to $475,000 in total compensation.

Fire officials have responded by citing the large number of devastating wildfires in California combined with ongoing staffing shortages. While undoubtedly true, it’s an unsustainable model that must be challenged, experts warn.

“It’s wrong from a budget perspective. There’s no way that the county should be allowing that to happen,” Frank Neuhauser, senior research associate at UC Berkeley’s Institute for the Study of Societal Issues, told the Times. “Somebody is not doing scheduling in the right way.”

Los Angeles County is not alone. Similar problems are plaguing public safety departments across the state. A recent report from the Sacramento Bee found that cities and counties spent $3.7 billion on overtime pay in 2017, representing a 60% increase over 2012.