There is more fallout tonight from a FOX 5 investigation into a D.C. firefighter who has been on the payroll for the last three and a half years, but has not worked a day. By some estimates, taxpayers have paid a quarter of a million dollars while D.C. Fire and EMS sits on her case. On Wednesday, there was a call for answers and accountability.”I’d like to know and I think the public ought to know,” said D.C. Council Member Phil Mendelson, who is the chair of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary.
There are lingering questions after FOX 5 discovered a female firefighter, assigned to Engine 14, has been on paid administrative leave for nearly three and a half years. “It says the department is not serious about discipline,” said Mendelson. “It says it’s going to pick and choose and some people aren’t going to get disciplined quickly when other people are being disciplined quickly. It sends bad message in terms of how fiscally responsible they are. It’s just wrong many different levels,” said Mendelson.
On Tuesday, FOX 5 revealed firefighter Natalie Overton, on administrative leave, has been paid her yearly salary, estimated to be in excess of $72,000. All the while, she has also been racking up sick and leave time and getting benefits.Internal fire department computer documents say the leave goes as far back to May 2007 until present day. The D.C. Firefighter Union President stepped forward to say enough is enough. “It’s ridiculous to be perfectly honest with you. What we should do is go back and complete this investigation and if there’s something there, then we deal with it. If there’s nothing there, then put her back to work,” said Ray Sneed, President of the Local 36 Firefighter’s Union. When we asked if there should there be a resolution in the next 30 days, Sneed said, “It shouldn’t take that long.” Sources say Overton was caught up in an alleged money scheme around CPR certification.
By FOX 5’s estimates, taxpayers have paid out as much as $255,000 while someone decides if she should be disciplined. Her salary is not the only cost; replacing her on Engine 14 has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime.Official figures show the fire department has chronically overspent for overtime since 2007; anywhere from $11 to $13 million. Some of it as we’ve shown is used to pay workers to sit at home and collect a check while the fire department sits on discipline cases for extended periods.
“If there was some wrongdoing done, they ought to identify it and discipline and move on, instead of having this just languish forever. That department is fraught with overtime management problems and when you have someone on administrative leave, it means that somebody else has to backfill the position and we’re paying overtime for that,” said Mendelson.
“To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t know how many other cases out here that will fall into this category. But I think by you bringing this to attention of the citizens as well as elected officials, I think we’re going to look into this and see what’s out there,” said Sneed. Sources provided FOX 5 with a list of 22 people who are on administrative leave as of Wednesday. The list does not indicate how long each had been on leave. Official requests for a list from the fire department have gone unanswered.
D.C. Fire and EMS told FOX 5 that this investigation is out of their hands and blamed the delay on the Inspector General’s office for dragging its feet. The Office of Inspector General was quick to respond Wednesday, saying they thought this was two separate investigations. A spokesman for the Inspector General said Wednesday, “The fire department was advised by us that they were free to pursue administrative action if it warranted. We were told by their investigators that they were going to initiate action.”