San Diego is planning a firefighter hiring spree to shrink ballooning overtime costs that are creating budget problems at City Hall.
The city’s goal is to increase the number of firefighters from about 900 to more than 1,100 over the next five years. That may be a challenge, with retirements on the rise and more firefighters leaving for other agencies with higher pay, a union leader said. About half of the 220 additional firefighters will be needed to staff five new fire stations scheduled to begin operations within the next five years and to staff six new roving fire engines that will be deployed in areas with poor emergency response times, according to city finance documents.
The rest of the new firefighters will help create a “relief pool” to cover shifts when firefighters take vacation or call in sick, shifts that are covered now by full-time firefighters forced to work overtime hours.
The lack of adequate staff, combined with stricter rules on the use of vacation time and other policy changes, has increased the city’s cost for firefighter overtime by about 50 percent during each of the last two fiscal years, the documents show.