NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - He only worked for the New Orleans Fire Department for three years but wanted to do so much longer.
“It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to work for NOFD and I loved every minute of it,” said Neil Patel.
Former NOFD firefighter Neil Patel says between the overtime demands at the department and the two side jobs he was forced to pick up to support his family, he says he had no choice but to tender his resignation.
“There are some houses that run up to 15-20 calls a day, you barely get sleep on shift, then if you’re expected to work another 24 hours there’s obviously some detriment to your performance as a firefighter but at the end of the day you have to work it to make ends meet for your family,” said Patel.
He recently started working as a recruit for an out of state fire department, one he says is paying him much more.
“Just recruits here in the academy who aren’t officially firefighters yet are making a base pay of what a New Orleans captain would make,” said Patel.
“There's a lot of guys on the job right now who have applications into other departments,” said President of the New Orleans Firefighters’ Association, Aaron Mischler.
Mischler says this is why firefighters made the decision they will no longer voluntarily work overtime hours. Shortly after that announcement, Chief Tim McConnell issued a mandatory overtime policy, and cancelled firefighters' vacations. McConnell says he doesn't want to do that, but in the interest of public safety, he says he has to has to.
“As long as firefighters report for those shifts, we should be good. The hardworking men and women of the New Orleans Fire Department should be rewarded they deserve recognition. However, after analyzing the request the union made in overtime and overtime adjustment, it sounds simple but it amounts to $4.7 million and given the city’s budget and budget constraints that’s not something that gets solved in an immediate request,” said McConnell.
Mischler filed an injunction with the courts wanting to reverse McConnell’s directive. But he believes their demands are reasonable, they just need to go to the table to talk about it.
“We’re showing up still working our 56 hours a week, we’re just not volunteering for anything extra right now. The guys chose to take a rest, we chose to take it at one time, so to be vindictive and take away firefighters’ vacation is vindictive,” said Mischler.
“The brothers and sisters on the job can only do this for the love of the job for so long they deserve a better quality of life,” said Patel.
McConnell says he will revisit the overtime and cancelled vacation directive after Mardi Gras.
In case firefighters don’t show up for work, he says they’ve already spoken with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to send help including using the National Guard.