Overtime costs at the San Francisco Fire Department are on pace to smash record levels, even as Mayor Gavin Newsom asks city agencies to trim their spending in light of a $522 million budget deficit.

Front-line firefighters, paramedics, plumbers, mechanics and brass at the department racked up a record $27.5 million in overtime in 2009, according to a Controller’s Report.

The data includes overtime accrued in both the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 fiscal years. Salaries comprise $215 million of a total budget of $280 million.

Firefighters work a 48.7 hour workweek mandated by the City Charter, which can only be altered at the ballot box. A typical schedule is on a three-day cycle: 24 hours on duty followed by 48 hours off duty.

Efforts to put a ballot proposition before the voters extending firefighters’ workweeks to 52 hours — which could have saved up to $7 million a year — were abandoned in face of strong opposition from the firefighters’ union.

Here are the documents we used in this report — check them out for yourself.

Spreadsheet of SFFD 2009 regular, OT, and other pay, sorted by employees’ regular pay, most to least, OT, most to least, and total pay, most to least.

SF City Employees’ monthly overtime report for November 2009

But as the budget season heats up, supervisors and others at City Hall may well take aim at the “other pay” category as well as overtime, as firefighters cashed in $24.6 million worth of “other pay” last year. Ten firefighters took home $100,000-plus of other pay alone last year.

Calls to the Fire Department and to the fire union were not returned Thursday, but the union itself says that the “other pay” category is complex.

No firefighters were laid off during last year’s budget crunch, though firefighters did agree to delay wage increases promised to them during their last contract negotiations.

The Fire Department is considering selling real estate in order to cut $13.3 million from its budget.

Top Earners
San Francisco Fire Department Chief Joanne Hayes-White is by all accounts good at her job — and she’s well compensated for it. Hayes-White received $293,869.93 for her services in 2009 — but she’s not the Fire Department’s top earner.

That honor went to Battalion Chief Johnny Lo. Lo’s base pay was $101,164.21, but he took home $53,409.64 in overtime and $139,549.39 in a category called “other pay” (cashed in sick days and vacation time) for a grand earning of $294,123.24.

Joining Lo and Hayes-White atop the $200,000+ plateau were 67 other firefighters — and not just the SFFD’s top brass. Paramedics, investigators, a plumbing supervisor and the “marine engineer of fire boats” all took home more than $200,000, according to a departmental wage list obtained by The Appeal.

In all, 1433 firefighters earned more than $100,000 in 2009. The department’s total payroll was $215,991,928.

Last year, an Examiner report said that Fire Department’s top brass are forced by law to work overtime because of city law. City law says two assistant chiefs and nine battalion chiefs must work at all times, and if a battalion chief is sick or goes on vacation, the list of qualified replacements is small, and the replacement then works on overtime, the report said.

Captain Joseph D. Driscoll — who was decorated for Meritorious Conduct during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake — was the department’s top overtime earner in 2009. Driscoll received $110,590 in overtime pay last year, nearly doubling his base pay of $131,922.

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