Records: 4 firefighters collected abundant overtime they didn’t work

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Photo by Steve Neavling.

Four firefighters racked up a combined $117,000 in overtime between January and October for hours they often didn’t work in a scheme uncovered through a public records request by Motor City Muckraker.

One of the firefighters resigned after we obtained overtime records and log books that revealed each was paid for as many as 82 hours a week.

Some of the firefighters claimed to work 40 hours a week on administrative duties downtown and an additional 40-plus hours in a firehouse, even though log books show they often didn’t work at the firehouse.

In some cases, firefighters were paid for 32-hour days.
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Soon after Muckraker’s Oct. 9 request for records under the Freedom of Information Act, the city launched a fraud investigation that now includes up to 12 firefighters, according to sources close to the internal probe. All of the firefighters, except for the one who resigned, are still working.

But the investigation isn’t stopping with firefighters. Numerous top-level fire officials signed off on the overtime and could be implicated, sources said on condition of anonymity because the matter is still under investigation.

Ex-Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins
Ex-Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins

Three days after our public records request, Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins was forced to resign. The city declined to say if the overtime scheme led to Jenkins’ resignation.

As soon as Mayor Mike Duggan’s office discovered the overtime, the city “immediately began conducting an audit,” mayoral spokesman John Roach said.

“We have met with the Fire Department and reinforced the policy of reporting time worked as the actual time that an employee is performing their job duties. We expect we will be complete with the audit in the next couple of weeks. The results of the audit will determine what, if any, further action will be needed.”

New fire commissioner, Eric Jones, who took over on Oct. 14, ended the overtime and forced the firefighters to work regular hours in the firehouse or downtown, where they were doing administrative work. Records show the overtime stopped in mid-October, when Jones became interim commissioner.

Jones said he will not tolerate any abuse but couldn’t comment on the investigation because city hall is handling it.

The overtime, which is 1.5 times the regular hourly rate, comes at a difficult time for the cash-strapped Fire Department, which closed a quarter of its companies in 2012 and can’t provide firefighters with enough certified equipment and rigs.

Motor City Muckraker is withholding the identities of the firefighters pending the outcome of the city investigation.

A captain who spoke on condition of anonymity said he refused to authorize the overtime because one of his firefighters wasn’t working in the firehouse as he was claiming.

It’s not yet clear how many top officials approved the overtime or how the firefighters were selected for the administrative duties.

The regular salary of the four firefighters is about $51,000 a year. But with overtime, three of them were each paid more than $75,000 in the first 10 months of the year and are on pace to make more than most of their officers.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

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