Firefighters concerned about department’s mandatory overtime policy

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WTKR) – Dozens of firefighters attended the Newport News City Council meeting on Tuesday hoping to be heard.

Donnie Lewis, President of the Newport News Firefighter’s Association, says a mandatory overtime policy is exhausting city firefighters.

“Our firefighters are the best in the world, I think. They do a great job…but there’s a limit,” said Lewis.

That limit is now, Lewis says, after a mandatory overtime policy came into play a couple months ago, exhausting himself and others.

“Our firefighters are medics and they’re riding on the medic trucks a lot. They’re responsible for your life. If I’ve been up for three days straight, how good am I?,” he asks.

That’s what he told the Newport News City Council.

“We’re here to ask city council for a simple policy change that will get firefighters home to their families,” he said.

It all started, he says, when Scott Liebold became the fire department’s Interim Chief at the end of March.

“One of the changes I made was to eliminate officers riding in non-supervisory positions,” Liebold, Newport News Fire Chief until 2014, told News 3 following the meeting.

One problem he saw was fire department officers, like lieutenants and captains, working overtime in roles not meant for a supervisor, which meant higher costs for a department set to exceed its overtime budget this year by about two million dollars.

And so, he says he put a stop to it, but that meant mandatory overtime hours for those firefighters who aren’t officers.

“Yes, it’s exhausting. Yes, it’s wearing [but] have a responsibility to provide a service to the city. For us to do that we have to staff our trucks. If we have vacancies and we have to staff our trucks, we have to make folks work,” said Liebold.

Adding more stress, Liebold says the department has nearly 40 vacancies and any measures to lighten the load on firefighters will take time.

“It’s gonna take 18 months to 24 months to really fix,” he said.

Lewis and the other exhausted firefighters tell News 3 they don’t feel heard.

“He’s fixing the budget on our back. When you tell fathers on Father’s Day you can’t go home because we gotta work you? That’s tough,” said Lewis.

Lewis tells News 3 some firefighters are looking for new jobs.