Sanchez, 51, is a paramedic, a member of the Hazardous Incident Response Team and a peer crisis counselor. Lipp, 47, the son and grandson of firefighters, is also a paramedic and on the Urban Search and Rescue Team, which has been deployed to such emergencies as the attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and May’s partial collapse of the Westfield Montgomery mall garage that was being renovated.
Lipp said the public knows about his earnings but doesn’t know the whole story.
“The perception can be misconstrued without context,” said Lipp, who has 25 years in the service and has heard the overtime debate for years. “If you look at it on the surface, you can draw conclusions that are not accurate.”
While firefighters are occasionally ordered to remain on the job if a replacement can’t be found, overtime is mostly voluntary. Regulations require that slots be offered first to qualified firefighters who make the least money, but not everyone wants extra hours, officials said. And there are those like Sanchez and Lipp who raise their hands every time.
The system can make for some extraordinarily long hours. Most Montgomery firefighters work a 48-hour week, with 24 hours on duty (7 a.m. to 7 a.m.) followed by two days off. Over one two-week stretch in May, for example, Lipp worked his regular 96 hours, along with an additional 71 hours of overtime, 13 as a paramedic. During that time, his hourly rate went from $47.10 to $70.65.
Overtime earnings have also been boosted by contracts Montgomery officials have negotiated with the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1664, one of the county’s most politically influential public-employee unions.
Federal labor law allows localities to require up to 53 hours of “straight time” in a two-week period before firefighters are eligible for overtime.
But the county’s contract with the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1664 triggers overtime at 48 hours. It also provides that hours paid — not just hours worked — count toward the 48-hour threshold, something not required by federal labor law but a common feature of collective-bargaining agreements in the fire service. In other words, a firefighter on a sick day, vacation or other earned leave is still working toward the 48-hour threshold.
The council report found that between January 2011 and June 2012, more than 300 firefighters received overtime during pay periods in which they worked just half of their regular hours, meaning two 24-hour shifts. More than 150 worked entire two-week pay periods with all overtime and no regular shifts.
John Sparks, president of the Montgomery firefighters union, said such situations are rare and not abusive.