HAMMOND | Removing a fire engine from service and reworking overtime pay are ways the city can reduce costs in the Hammond Fire Department, according to a report released this week.
The city commissioned the report to review the department, which at an estimated $16.1 million this year is the second largest cost in the city's budget.
The study found Hammond firefighters earn higher salaries and receive more vacation time and overtime pay than their colleagues at five other departments across the state. The report conducted by Muncie-based consulting firm Waggoner, Irwin, Scheele & Associates compared the city with fire departments in Anderson, East Chicago, Elkhart, Gary and Lafayette.
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said the study's findings gives his administration “more ammunition” if contract negotiations ever occur with the firefighters' union. The city's four-year contract with the union is set to expire at the end of the year, but talks are on hold.
“We hear they're not taken care of financially and their benefits package is inadequate. That's the type of stuff we hear, and we can point out that's not the case,” McDermott said.
“You guys are actually one of the better compensated firefighters in the state of Indiana. We can prove that to them. This is all facts.”
Ed Lomeli, president of Hammond Professional Firefighters Association Local 556, questioned why the city chose to study the department and not its largest expense — the Hammond Police Department.
McDermott said the city studied the Police Department during his first term as mayor.
The rig the study recommends to be taken out of service operates out of Fire Station No. 5 at Hohman Avenue and Wildwood Road. The city built the station in the 1920s to service an area isolated by now-removed railroad tracks.
The report recommends transferring an ambulance to Station No. 5 if the city wants to keep the firehouse open.
McDermott said even if the city wanted to shut down the rig, the current union contract bars it from doing so because of minimum staffing requirements.
The report also found the city could save more than $700,000 by paying overtime on a 28-day work cycle. Hammond paid more than $1 million in overtime to city firefighters in 2011. Comparatively, Anderson, who adopted the work cycle, spent $265,759.
The report also recommends if raises are approved they are flat dollar amount increases instead of the 3 to 4 percent raises firefighters received annually in the current contract.
Fire Department Chief Jeff Smith said Tuesday he wanted to review the report before commenting on its contents.