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Email: St. Paul Fire Chief Calls Weekend Sick Use 'Disturbing and Costly Pattern'

December 07, 2016 08:05 AM

St. Paul Fire Chief Tim Butler raised questions in a department email obtained by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS about weekend firefighter sick time calling it “a disturbing-and costly—pattern of sick leave use.”

In the email sent over the weekend to department members, Butler wrote that 36 percent of sick leave in 2016 was used by firefighters on Saturday and Sunday.

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"I know that sick leave use balloons on the weekend in order to get "extra time off," wrote Butler. “It clearly hurts staffing, it violates the expectation of our citizens, and it's just plain wrong."

The fire chief’s email said staffing levels were impacted including super medic crews being kept off the street.

“I know legitimate sick leave use happens on the weekend. There is no doubt that Firefighting is a demanding job, and that our people are exposed to more stress, pathogens, and toxics than any other force in the city,” Butler said. “But the vast difference between weekend sick leave use and that used during the week cannot be explained by legitimate sick leave use.”

The chief’s email was a topic at Tuesday night’s St. Paul Firefighter Local 21 union meeting.

"A lot of our members were offended, being accused, being blamed for the budget crisis, when we know it was a mismanagement of the department," said Mike Smith, St. Paul Fire Fighters Local 21.

The union represents 410 St. Paul firefighters at or below the rank of captain.

Smith said the chief’s sick time data, of 1,182 instances where fire fighters called in sick during 2016,  included firefighters being out for long-term sicknesses.

That's an average of 169 instances for each day during 2016. But the number of sick calls on the weekend was significantly higher. There were 228 sick calls on Saturdays and 201 on Sundays during that year.

"The numbers you see, they are a little skewed, said Smith. “It's just not the individuals calling in sick.”

Smith said firefighters run more than 100 calls per day in St. Paul, and his fellow firefighters are exposed to very sick individuals on those medical runs.

"The stress of the job alone, it's a lot of mental health issues that our people are faced with," said Smith.

Chief Butler said in a phone call late Tuesday with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS his intention of the email was not to cast blame but to explain budget constraints to the union and department, adding thought this year he's still on budget.

Smith, on behalf of the union, wrote St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Deputy Mayor Kristin Beckmann Tuesday evening voicing concerns about the chief's email.

In the letter to city hall, Smith wrote, “It is time for the city to start holding this chief accountable for his lack of leadership and mismanagement of this budget.”

Both fire union officials and the chief agree sick leave use by firefighters has been a topic of conversation over the years.

The City of St. Paul has yet to finalized the department’s budget for 2017, fire officials are asking for an additional $2 million, to some of it to hire more staff, bringing its total budget to $67 million.

Credits

Eric Chaloux

Copyright 2016 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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