Cleveland Fire Department audit finds taxpayer dollars wasted, public safety possibly put at risk

CLEVELAND - Cleveland's fire department is once again under fire, as city leaders on Tuesday released a second audit of the department. The new audit shows widespread abuse of sick time within the department, as well as shift trades by firefighters.

Those abuses cost taxpayers millions of dollars and even forced the city to temporarily take fire trucks out of service.

The new audit suggests as many as 200 firefighters, a quarter of the department, may have worked the system for years. Among the findings, sick-time records of some fire division employees were never adequately kept and some shift trades were not documented.

Because of the audit, Cleveland is enacting new procedures to better track who is working, and for how long. Cleveland safety director Martin Flask said the newly-consolidated EMS and fire payroll will be overseen by a civilian employee who will report to the assistant director of public safety. The fire department will no longer be in charge of payroll.

Cleveland will also install new fingerprint time clocks, which would require an employee to place his finger on the clock when checking into work.

The latest findings come four months after auditors first found problems with the department. However, that audit was limited to a small sampling of data from last year. This second review, looked at sick time and work shift trades dating to 2006.

Cleveland Firefighters Association Local 93 released the following statement Tuesday evening:

We have reviewed the internal audit the City of Cleveland released today relative to trades of time, overtime, and the use of sick time by the members of the Cleveland Division of Fire, who are represented by the Association of Cleveland Firefighters, IAFF Local 93.

The internal audit is a tool of management, used to identify issues with policies created by management and circumvent the collective bargaining process. Many of the issues raised were addressed in the agreement reached between the city and the fire fighters in February. Beyond that, the audit's conclusions are based on speculative interpretation of numbers, not on hard evidence.

A fire fighter has a physically and mentally demanding job. Our members do not set City policies; they follow orders. If we didn't, we wouldn't be able to effectuate rescues and mitigate the emergencies we confront on a daily basis.

The audit continues to suggest trades of time cost the city money. Trades are cost neutral. The city complains about overtime, forgetting Chief Stubbs' budget that would have drastically reduced overtime and averted layoffs was rejected. Unlike trades, layoffs do create overtime. Perhaps this should have been considered when budgeting for the Division of Fire.

The audit notes that the Fire Department funeral and sick leave policies differ from other city departments. These policies are part of the collective bargaining agreement with the city, an agreement signed by Director Flask and Mayor Jackson.

The findings of the audit are largely a failure of management. The city repeatedly refused to act on the recommendations of previous internal audits. Local 93 has urged the city to modernize its record keeping system for years.

The Association of Cleveland Fire Fighters stands ready to address management's issues in the appropriate format. These repeated attacks on our members are a disservice to the men and women who risk their lives to protect this city every day.

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