SFFD firefighter investigation calls into question mandatory overtime policy

Byby Sergio Quintana KGO logo
Thursday, September 24, 2015
SFFD firefighter investigation calls into question mandatory overtime policy
An incident involving a San Francisco firefighter is bringing up questions about mandatory overtime policies and drinking.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Last month, a fire truck left Station 21 early in the morning with only three firefighters on board. The fourth missed the call and now the San Francisco Fire Department is investigating if that missing firefighter was intoxicated.

Sources within the department told ABC7 News the firefighter shouldn't have been at the station because he had expected to be on a flight for a medical appointment out of state. Instead, he was ordered to fill a mandatory overtime shift.

When a fire truck leaves any station, four crew members are usually aboard. The missing firefighter on this call turned out to be one of the only transgender people in the department.

He had planned to travel to Chicago for a doctor's appointment to address some complications with his transition. But when he arrived for his Aug. 2 regular shift, he was told to stay on for a mandatory 24-hour overtime shift on Aug. 3, making that a 48-hour tour, which meant he could not make the medical appointment.

The department has been using mandatory overtime shifts because of staffing cuts following the recession in 2009.

Department sources tell ABC7 News, the firefighter notified his chain of command about the medical appointment, but the request was denied by a deputy chief.

Fire department spokesperson Mindy Talmadge says these kinds of special circumstances can be addressed directly with Fire Chief Joanne Hayes White, but that didn't happen.

Talmadge couldn't say much more. She told ABC7 News, "I can't really discuss this particular case because it's under investigation right now. It's an active investigation."

Firefighters are allowed to opt out of a few mandatory overtime shifts, but the firefighter in question had used up all his requests to refuse overtime. Talmadge said three refusals are allowed per year.

She did say the department plans on hiring more than 200 firefighters over the next three years. That will help ease the need for mandatory overtime.

This is the first intoxication investigation for the fire department since the June 23, 2013 crash involving former firefighter Michael Quinn.

He had been charged with driving under the influence after a crash that injured a motorcyclist, but those charges were thrown out by a judge.

Quinn has since resigned from the department.