A Miami-Dade fire chief has been on light duty for nearly eight years, restricted from carrying out his usual work but still receiving his $124,319.78 annual salary after suffering an injury outside the job.
It’s the same for 28 other fire-rescue department employees, who have been given less demanding workloads despite having injuries that were not incurred while working, according to a county survey released Wednesday.
The survey, conducted by Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s office at county commissioners’ behest, shows that no other agency has more employees receiving full-time pay for light-duty work — due to injuries suffered either on the job or off — than fire, which is facing significant cuts in the budget that commissioners are scheduled to approve Thursday.
Seventy-eight of the department’s 2,431-member work force — about 3 percent — fall under the restrictions. That’s far higher than the county as a whole, where less than 1 percent of employees have been assigned to light duty — a figure that includes the fire department. That’s about 2 percent of corrections and rehabilitation employees; about 1 percent of transit employees and less than 1 percent of police employees.
A relatively small number — 211 — of the county’s nearly 26,000 workers across 43 agencies have been assigned to light duty, for an average of about 13 months, the survey found.
Employees may be placed on either temporary or permanent light duty as a result of an injury, as stipulated in the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, Family Medical Leave Act and Workers’ Compensation, according to the county.
For years, the firefighters union has been trying to get more workers back on regular duty, said Rowan Taylor, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1403.
But it has been difficult for a variety of reasons, he said. Sometimes, employees and the county are at odds over whether certain injuries were caused by the job even if they occurred outside of work hours. And some employees have had cancer or been diagnosed with heart conditions or other chronic illnesses that prevent them from passing required physicals.
“We go through those battles every single year with this county,” he told the Miami Herald last month. “We agree: We would love for all those people to get back to work and offset overtime and [let the department] hire more people.”
Under the proposed 2013-14 budget, the department would have to lay off 59 firefighters — including 40 new recruits hired this year — and eliminate three fire trucks unless it is awarded a federal grant next month. The department also faced a crunch this summer, with fire stations briefly going through a “rolling brownout” — idling trucks and personnel — to compensate for overtime and other expenses exceeding revenues.
Before commissioners take a vote on the budget Thursday, they will hold a second and final public hearing. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
The first hearing last week centered on layoffs and service cuts to public libraries. Having avoided that pain by depleting the libraries’ financial reserves for next year, commissioners will likely now turn their attention to other parts of the budget — including the fire department.