Report shows impact of overtime costs on Winnipeg’s fire-paramedic budget

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WINNIPEG -- Overtime costs are putting pressure on Winnipeg’s fire-paramedic budget.

A new report to the Finance Committee said the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service is asking for a $4.47 million over expenditure.

It attributes the cost overrun to a rise in overtime in the fire department: $6.7 million this year compared to $3.5 million last year, and $2 million the year before. It said, in part, because of more retirements than normal, 42 in 2020, compared to 30 on average per year.

The pandemic could be playing a role.

The report said isolation requirements for firefighters who test positive for COVID-19 or are close contacts is contributing to longer term absences as community transmission rises.

Short-term illnesses are up 4 per cent in 2020, long-term up 12 per cent, and administrative leave is up 340 per cent, or 81 instances in 2019 compared to 356 this year.

“The fact that people need to self-isolate and follow the rules so that we’re not spreading COVID, you are seeing some absenteeism increases but we are managing,” said Emergency Operations Centre Manager Jay Shaw.

“It’s one of the reasons why we initiated dialogue with federal and provincial officials about the first responder testing site,” said Mayor Brian Bowman.

The report also said a spring class of 30 new firefighters was cancelled based on projections at the time.

The firefighters' union said this is the main reason for the overtime issue.

“It’s a very simple calculation and if you don’t hire 30 fire fighters last spring we knew the overtime would go up to this amount,” said UFFW President Alex Forrest.

The report said a cohort of newly trained firefighters will be available this month and said the timing of the December group was delayed because of physical distancing requirements at the training academy.