Providence welcomes 83 new firefighters amid overtime cost concerns
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WJAR) —
Eighty-three new firefighters have joined the Providence Fire Department with their graduation from the training academy Monday.
It's the department's most diverse recruiting class.
It’s also its largest ever, which is the result of a big shortage in firefighters on the department.
More than 100 firefighters retired in the past couple of years after Mayor Jorge Elorza imposed a controversial shift change in 2015.
Elorza argued then that firefighters were on an overtime “gravy train” and that his move would save at least $5 million a year.
He maintains that position now.
“We'll be saving much more than $5 million going forward,” Elorza told NBC 10 News Monday.
Last week, City Councilman John Igliozzi sounded the alarm on overtime costs, saying as a result of the shift change and exodus of firefighters leaving a lot of empty shifts to be filled, firefighter overtime payouts have gone up a total of more than $6 million over the past two years and are still rising.
The city is also about to pay several million dollars to the firefighters to settle their fight over the shift change.
The mayor and his team argue while overtime is up overall costs are down.
“Absolutely, it was worth it. When you look at the savings we're realizing as a result of it, we're seeing millions of dollars in savings. That's the important piece,” Elorza told NBC 10.
The mayor’s administration said the retirements resulted in the city paying 100 fewer firefighter salaries.
And those salaries were at the higher end of the pay scale.
The administration claims that savings was about $10 million a year, and these new firefighters now filling the gap aren't making as much.
“Firefighters are now less expensive. The structural cost, we're going to save millions of dollars,” Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said.
The mayor and the firefighters ended their dispute over the shift change last year and agreed to a new contract that lowers the number of firefighters required to be on duty.
The mayor claims that change is also saving the city more than $2.5 million a year going forward.