Gloucester Fire Department officials say its overtime account has the funding to keep the West Gloucester station open and both ambulances running for another month after shifting more money into firefighter overtime from one of the GFD's own budget lines.
But Bay View and Magnolia stations are a different story.
Acting Fire Chief Steven Aiello — who officially steps into his new role today — says the department has about $25,000 in the account for staffing stations at the 14 firefighter minimum.
He said, based on the last few years, the department will run out of overtime at the end of March.
The city put $30,000 from this year's free cash surplus into the overtime account to open the station from January until last week, after the department exhausted its budgeted overtime funds last December.
The $30,000 had run out last week, said City Chief Financial Officer Jeff Towne at a Budget and Finance Subcommittee meeting Thursday night.
But Towne said the department filled the immediate gap in overtime funding — the second of the winter — by using money that had been put aside for paramedic training. The amount was roughly $36,000, according to firefighters union president Phil Bouchie.
Aiello said the supplemental overtime funds lasted longer than they have in previous years. Last year, the department ran out of overtime in April, after receiving additional funding from a grant that had been sought by Fire Chief Phil Dench, who officially retires Tuesday after more than 30 years with the department and after serving nearly three years as interim chief.
"We've had less inclement weather, and fewer major incidents," Aiello said.
With less of both, he added, the department has had to call in fewer firefighters on overtime and dip into its account this winter, even while keeping the West Gloucester station open.
If those trends continue, Aiello added, the department will be able to keep Central and West Gloucester up and running.
The outskirt stations? Not so much.
Aiello said that, with the current overtime and staffing levels, he doesn't expect to see Bay View or Magnolia fire stations open on a regular basis for the remainder of this fiscal year, which runs through June 30.
Since the department ran out of overtime funding in late December, Bay View has been rarely open, and the department hasn't opened Magnolia since September.
"I don't think that's going to happen this fiscal year," he said.
The Fire Department had emptied its $200,000 general overtime account less than six months after the 2012 fiscal year began July 1.
Without overtime, the department can't call in firefighters to fill to the minimum staffing level.
The firefighters' union contract with the city sets the minimum manning for staffing any outlying stations at 14. When fewer than 14 people on a 17- or 18-man shift report for duty, the department calls firefighters back on overtime to cover stations when available. West Gloucester is the last station the city closes due to staffing levels on any given shift; thus, it's the one that stays open whenever staffing is available.
The department contractually can't open Bay View without 16 men on duty, and it takes 18 for Magnolia under the minimum staffing contract requirements.
Up to five firefighters can be out each shift on varied kinds of leave — not including medical leave or training at the state Fire Academy. With two people out sick, and three on personal, vacation or other leave, a shift is down to 12 or 13 and requires overtime.
Also, according to the contract, the fire chief does not have the authority to deny leave to firefighters.
Getting Bay View and Magnolia open, said Aiello, will be in the hands of the permanent fire chief, when the city hires one in a search now targeted to carry through April and into May.
Councilor Paul McGeary, head of the City Council's budget and finance committee, said the council will take a close look at the overtime account in the fiscal 2013 budgeting process. The city, he said, needs to provide the funding the contract requires.
"We (the city) signed the contract," said McGeary. "We should fund the contract,"
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.