Los Angeles firefighters on average earned nearly $43,000 in overtime in 2013, up nearly 20% from the year before, according to data released Tuesday by City Controller Ron Galperin.
With overtime and bonuses factored in, the average firefighter was paid more than $142,000 last year, the data show.
Though firefighters got the biggest share, overtime was up substantially across city departments, climbing more than $70 million to a total of $378 million in 2013, the data show.
"The city is a 24-hour operation, so overtime is a part of doing business," Galperin said in a press release. He urged city leaders to explore management and hiring practices that could save money.
The information was added to Galperin's open data website, which he says is a vehicle to improve transparency and give taxpayers "more insight into the city's true payroll costs."
The firefighters' union president did not dispute the controller's pay figures. He said his members were overworked and desperate for reinforcements.
"We're at a tipping point where it doesn't make sense to continue to pay so much overtime without hiring new workers," said Frank Lima, president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City. "That's not the fault of the firefighter on the street."
The city hasn't hired a new firefighter in five years, Lima said. That has left fewer firefighters to handle the workload and requires the city to pay more overtime, he said. Exhaustion among rescuers is contributing to longer response times and a growing risk to public safety, he added. "We're running more calls than ever over here; it ain't no cake walk."
The fire department has lost 726 sworn members since 2008, according to a press release on Tuesday. But a new class of 68 recruits began training in January and is expected to graduate in June.
"The ongoing hiring of new firefighters will help alleviate the need for such significant reliance on overtime staffing," the release said.
Department of Water and Power employees had the second-highest average overtime, at just over $12,500. That brought total earnings for the department's average employee to $103,000 in 2013, the data show.
The city-owned utility also paid an average of $16,230 for health and dental benefits for employees. That's 27% more than the cost to cover other city employees, Galperin reported.