When there were staff shortages, including a captain’s illness, at the Salem Fire Department this summer, a lieutenant offered to fill in.
The lieutenant worked about 100 hours that week because of vacations and the absence of Capt. Steve McKenna, who is battling cancer, according to Salem Town Manager Keith Hickey.
“It was a onetime deal,” Hickey said. “It was the exception, not the rule.”
But Selectman Stephen Campbell told fellow board members last week he’s concerned about town employees putting in too many hours, affecting the quality of their work.
Allowing the lieutenant to work that many hours put the town in a difficult position, he said, possibly jeopardizing public safety.
“The more hours you work, the more chance it is likely you could make a mistake,” Campbell said. “It is not good for the employees, it is not really good for the town as an employer.”
Salem has policies for how many hours police officers and firefighters can work, but Campbell said they are too lenient.
Some other Southern New Hampshire departments have formal policies as well, but some do not, and say the number of hours worked has never been issue.
Campbell contends the lieutenant logged 105 hours in that one week and says the policies must be tightened.
Campbell, who as a selectman must sign off on employee payroll, said another public safety employee worked 91 hours a few weeks ago. He would not identify the employee nor the department.
An employee could work as many as 112 hours in a week under town policy, he said. A Salem police officer could work up to 16 hours in a 24-hour period while a firefighter could work at least 48 hours in a 72-hour period.
But Hickey and other selectmen don’t take issue with the policies. The town manager said the situation last summer was the only time an employee worked approximately 100 hours.