Paid to Sleep? Schroeder says taxpayers are stuck paying bill for napping dispatchers on 48-hour shifts

Civilian dispatchers in the Buffalo Fire Department can sleep on the job for 10 hours during their 48-hour shifts, the department acknowledged at a special meeting of the Common Council’s finance committee last week.

“While I am glad the dispatchers are well rested when responding to emergencies, obviously the city shouldn’t be in a situation where taxpayers are paying employees to sleep,” said Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder. “If there were enough dispatchers, the city wouldn’t have to pay any of them to sleep.”

Schroeder recently conducted an audit of the Buffalo Fire Department that found an office of about a dozen civilian dispatchers have worked 24-hour shifts on 137 occasions in the past fiscal year, in addition to seven instances of employees working 48-hour shifts.

Dispatchers, who are members of the city’s white-collar union, are allowed 10 hours to sleep during a 48-hour shift, and five hours to sleep during a 24-hour shift, it was explained at the council meeting. Sleeping accommodations are provided at the dispatch office.

“The city should be paying people to work, not sleep. With adequate staffing this wouldn’t be a problem,” said Schroeder. “We raised concerns about this situation 18 months ago, but the problem has only gotten worse.”

Schroeder’s audit found that civilians in the fire department – non-firefighting personnel such as dispatchers, mechanics, and administrative staff – average more than 400 hours of overtime per year. Since civilian employees do not need as much training as firefighters, Schroeder said that civilian overtime should be easier to manage.

Overtime in the fire department has cost taxpayers $10 million dollars in the city’s past fiscal year, which ended June 30.