Short staffed and in some cases over worked - more and more San Diego firefighters are being required to stay on the clock for several days at a time.
A mandatory callback is a staffing tool used around the country to ensure public safety when firefighters are sick or departments are short staffed. When a firefighter just getting off a 24 hour shift, is required to work another one, which often runs into their next shift - meaning they're on the clock 72 hours in a row.
Some firefighters have seen shifts double from 10 to 20 a month.
But these days it's an everyday occurrence inside the San Diego Fire Department, where anywhere from 10 to 30 firefighters every 24 hour shift are being forced to work overtime.
The fire department has been reduced more than 100 firefighters because employees leave for higher paying jobs at other departments, senior members retire and there hasn’t been an academy to fill the rank in three years.
"I’ve never seen where we've gotten down to this point,” said firefighter union president Frank DeClercq when asked about mandatory callbacks.
“Some of the single people it's probably a little easier on, we've got some single parents and it's more difficult because they're scrambling to get someone to cover their children, the day care part, cause it's 24 hours,” DeClercq said. "For some people it's politically motivated to discuss, hey look at these firefighters, they're making over $10,000.”
Fire Chief Javier Mainar says about 15 percent of the time, firefighters decline - some have even been suspended.
"When people decline those shifts there is a progressive discipline process we go through, so we're literally forcing firefighters to work overtime, sometimes against their wishes,” he said.
For those working the extra shifts, in some cases 10 or more a month, there's growing concern about how this will look on paper - when more six figure salaries are on the books.
“It is in fact cheaper to pay an existing firefighter to work overtime than it is to hire a fully benefited new firefighter, so it makes economic sense,” said Mainar. “But there is a tipping point there where you exhaust that willingness of the work force to come in and work extra shifts."
For firefighters who don't like the mandatory callbacks, there is some hope on the horizon. In December, 36 new recruits will go through an academy, the first one in more than three years. That will be followed by another 36 member academy graduates next spring.