Imagine taking home paychecks where you make more in overtime than your actual salary. It's happening right here in Clark County with some of the highest paid workers being firefighters.
They are being paid, in some cases, more than $90,000 in overtime alone. But is there a good explanation?
Battling the blazes in the summer heat is no easy job. But a newly released study shows some firefighters are lining their pockets with so much overtime, salaries aren't just in the six figures, some are making nearly a quarter-of-a-million dollars and taxpayers are footing the bill.
"There were some numbers that kind of made your raise your eyebrows a little bit," said Andy Matthews with the Nevada Policy Research Institute. He says their new study shows some government paychecks seem unusually high. The information was gathered through Freedom of Information requests.
"It's not difficult to draw the conclusion that there may be some waste in there," he said.
The I-Team found the highest paid employees in Clark County all have one thing in common. A number of firefighters, fire captains and fire engineers are making well over $200,000 a year, most if it in overtime.
"You just have a way, if you will, of padding salaries," said Carole Vilardo who runs the Nevada Taxpayers Association. When she looks at the list, she says a lot of money is going to unusual places. "Overtime is a very expensive commodity."
There are just 42 Clark County firefighters in Laughlin and they are pocketing a lot of overtime but they have few calls. Station 18 in Las Vegas had over 23,000 calls last year, making it number one in the nation. Both Laughlin stations had only 3,000 calls combined. The average firefighter in Laughlin brings home $8,000 more dollars in salary alone. It's called remote pay.
The fire department does not track total pay from Laughlin compared to Las Vegas. So if they are responding to fewer calls, getting extra pay for the remote location, why are they getting so much in overtime?
The problem may actually be the water itself. Unlike the Las Vegas valley, firefighters in Laughlin have to be able to perform water rescues and pilot boats if necessary.
"The units are staffed 24 hours a day and that's our obligation to the community -- to be able to respond at all times," said Chief Steven Smith/Clark County Fire Department.
Chief Smith is the county's top firefighter. He says Laughlin firefighters aren't padding their paychecks.
"The people at the top of the list are willing to give us their time to staff our units and they're willing to sacrifice the time away from their families,"
Because of the special training, if someone is sick or on vacation -- only a few people can fill in.
"What level of busy do you want? What job satisfaction do you get?" Smith says it's a good incentive for some firefighters. Other sources tell the I-Team, most senior firefighters end their career on the river because it is extra pay and less work.
"It is a less busy station, and they do have that privilege when they bid down there if they choose to bid down there," said Smith. He adds that the county audits prove it is actually cheaper to give out thousands of dollars in overtime rather than hire a new firefighter, train him and pay benefits.
The department could not provide the figures and data to prove a cost benefit, however, they say most Laughlin speciality training is done in-house by captains.
The department is not looking to fill in vacancies and extra manpower any time soon.
"It's more cost effective to allow the overtime or let a position be filled with overtime. Again, the staffing model hasn't demonstrated that people aren't willing to fill those opportunities," Smith said.
The NPRI also found that the same sort of issue exists with the city of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas fire departments. You can view 2009 firefighter salaries here.
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