Dispatchers sleeping on the job, but officials say city is safe

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Napping on the job. Buffalo fire officials admitted, during a Wednesday morning hearing at City Hall, some civilian dispatchers have actually been sleeping while working as many as 48 hours straight.

Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder called out the city, last week, after auditing the Fire Department’s payroll.

Schroeder said two audits–an audit last year, and a follow up in January–turned up overtime practices that were so egregious, he referred the audit to the Erie County District Attorney and the State Attorney General for a possible fraud investigation.

The special hearing, called by the Common Council, was called after the Comptroller’s audit showed the Fire Department rang up $10 million in overtime, last year, most of it by civilian employees, and Patrick Curry, Executive Assistant to the Comptroller, said fire dispatchers were paid for what seemed to br impossible hours.

“We found 137 instances where employees worked 24 or more consecutive hours. We also found 7 instances where 48 consecutive hours were worked by employees in the dispatch office.”

But Deputy Fire Commissioner Vincent Muscarella insisted public safety was never jeopardized by the dispatchers napping, “I will stake my reputation that it is not a safety issue.”

Top city officials explained dispatchers working one and two-day shifts can sleep during down time, but there is sufficient personnel to make sure their posts are always covered.

Muscarella explained, “We only need one dispatcher at the council, if nothing is going on. If there is a fire going on, all three will be on their council.”

While Curry said he was relieved to hear the long shifts were not jeopardizing public safety, he did not agree with paying city workers on taxpayers’ time, “We do not want to see a situation where we are paying employees 10 hours to sleep on their shift.”

Fire officials pointed out they have hired new dispatchers, and other personnel, which should cut overtime dramatically. Did Councilmember Richard Fontana, who chaired the hearing, hear anything that could lead to possible prosecution, as per the Comptroller’s audits?

“If there is nothing wrong and they are simply working a 24-hour shift, sleeping for the five and resting for the five, then that seems to be an industry norm,” said Fontana adding, “nothing came up today that rose to any criminal level at all. It was really just about the numbers.”

Fire officials said the new dispatchers are in training, and they should be up to speed in about two-and-a-half weeks. After that the Comptroller’s staff plan to conduct another follow-up audit to see if overtime actually does come down

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