CITY HALL— Last fiscal year, 42 members of the Santa Monica Fire Department made more than $200,000, according to documents provided by city officials.
Overtime pay pushed many of the employees over $200,000, said City Manager Rod Gould.
He called the high number “an anomaly,” based on the fact that the department had 12 vacancies for much of the year.
Paying firefighters overtime is 10 percent cheaper for City Hall than hiring new ones, Gould said.
The SMFD is now close to full-staffing, Gould said.
Some of the $200,000 includes overtime paid for by City Hall, but reimbursed through the private sector for events held in the city.
“If you’re offering a big event in town and there’s any chance that there could be a fire, or explosion, or medical emergencies, we have fire personnel standing by,” Gould said. “It’s reimbursed but it shows up as part of their salaries.”
Fire Chief Scott Ferguson, who made $267,000 last year, said that Santa Monica is unique in that its many attractions draw lots of private events. SMFD staff were on-hand for GLOW and the Los Angeles Marathon as well as many film productions.
Ferguson was the second highest paid SMFD member last year. A Battalion Chief made $272,000. Five members made more than $250,000. Most of the members making more than $200,000 were fire captains.
In 2012, 175 Los Angeles Fire Department members made more than $200,000, which equates to one per every 22,000 residents. Santa Monica had one per 2,190 residents last year.
In 2011, 113 Los Angeles fire fighters made more than $200,000.
Also included in last year’s earnings is overtime pay reimbursed by training grants provided by the federal government and funneled through the state and county to City Hall.
The Santa Monica Fire Department represents Westside municipalities Culver City, West L.A., and Beverly Hills by providing hazmat, airport response, and urban search and rescue. Training and equipment for these specialty units is funded through grant money.
“We are about as full-service as you can possibly imagine,” Ferguson said.
Gould said that the fire fighters don’t often get massive overtime several years in a row.
“To the extent that there are some of these guys that are willing to give up huge gobs of their free time in order to make big salaries for a while, it looks like they’re taking advantage,” he said. “Most of these guys don’t do this very long because they burn out. This is not their ongoing salaries. Some of the cases they have a year where their wife is away or they’re doing something else and they’ve just decided ‘I’m going to work every hour I can get.’”
Mutual aid responses, when Santa Monica fire fighters are called to help with particularly large fires or disasters outside of the city limits, show up in the salaries, but are reimbursed by the city in which the problem occurred.
Ferguson said that Santa Monica fire fighters work hard.
“Santa Monica puts in a lot of hours,” he said. “It’s a little place with a big machine.”