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Denver fire chief bagged hundreds of hours of comp time attending memorials, parties, visiting firehouses

Denver fire chief bagged hundreds of hours of comp time at memorials, parties, sports games and more
Denver fire chief bagged hundreds of hours of comp time at memorials, parties, sports games and more 05:36

UPDATE: Denver Fire Chief Desmond Fulton responds to the investigation as Denver's mayor calls for a review of the Denver Fire Department's comp time

Denver Fire Chief Desmond Fulton, who earns $230,000 per year and is one of the city's highest-paid workers, has also amassed more than 400 hours of "comp time" in the last three years by attending memorial services for firefighters, attending retirement parties for his employees, attending mayoral forums and going to a candlelight vigil for victims of the Club Q mass shooting in 2022.

It's a practice one veteran Denver firefighter termed "disgusting," and one that appears to be prohibited according to Denver's municipal code. After learning what the CBS News Colorado investigation found, Denver Executive Director of Public Safety Armando Saldate said he was "unaware of the practice" and ordered an immediate stop to it.

In an April 11 email to Fulton and his executive staff, Saldate wrote, "An independent investigation will be conducted into the Executive Staff's use of such time, including, but not limited to, whether the use of such time was legally authorized (...) all DFD Executive Staff is ordered to immediately cease the utilization of Kelly/Flex time."

Fulton declined repeated requests to be interviewed by CBS News Colorado about the comp time practice.

Denver Fire Chief Desmond Fulton Courtesy / Denver Fire Department

Comp or flex time is normally incurred when employees work extra hours outside of their assigned shifts and schedules. Those comp time hours can then be used for vacations or other time off requested by the employees.

A review of Fulton's work records from 2021, 2022 and 2023 showed he repeatedly racked up comp time or flex time by attending events that others viewed as being part of his job. He could then use that comp time to cover his vacations and cash in unused vacation days at the end of each year, which he did.

VIEW: Chief Fulton's comp time entries from 2021-2023

Fulton would routinely stop by Denver firehouses for weekly dinners, but records show each time he did that, he would bill for three to four hours of comp time.

In 2021, he billed seven hours of comp time for attending the Major League Baseball home run derby in Denver, then racked up another six and a half hours of comp time the following day for attending the MLB All-Star Game.

If he came in to attend a retirement send-off on a weekend for one of his subordinates, he would routinely record two to three hours of comp time.

When he attended a memorial in Lakewood in 2022 for fallen Colorado firefighters, Fulton charged three and a half hours of comp time according to his records.

Later in 2022, he collected another five hours of comp time for attending a fallen firefighter memorial in Colorado Springs.

A screenshot of CBS file video shows the 2022 Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial ceremony, one of several events where Denver Fire Chief Desmond Fulton billed the city for comp time for his attendance. CBS

In October 2022, Fulton attended a national firefighters memorial in Maryland for a weekend. All travel costs were paid by the city of Denver, according to city officials, and Fulton charged 19 hours of comp time for attending the weekend events.

"It's disgusting," said one current Denver firefighter, who asked that he not be identified for fear of reprisal. "People go on their days off to honor our fallen firefighters. We don't do it for money. We do it because we respect the sacrifice that those firefighters have made. They gave their lives to save the community."

The veteran firefighter also said he was surprised to learn his chief was charging comp time for having weekly dinners at fire stations: "That's terrible. The thought is, he's coming there because he wants to be with you, not that he wants to make a buck. I thought he was taking the time because he wanted to make a connection between the administrative staff and the online personnel."

Fulton's records show that he gave himself three hours of comp time for dressing up as Santa and attending a hospital toy drive, and two days after the November 2022 Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs that saw five people murdered, Fulton billed three hours of comp time for attending a Candlelight Gathering in Denver.

"It is distasteful," said a former high-ranking Denver fire department administrator who is now retired and asked he not be identified. He said community events and appearances are "part and parcel of what they are paying him for. This does not meet the litmus test. He doesn't understand what his job is."

The retired DFD member said, "If he wants more overtime, he should go back to the firehouse."

In the past three years, Fulton tallied 415 comp hours, or more than 50 extra days of work, according to his records.

His comp time records also show:

  • In 2022, he recorded nine hours of comp time for participating in two bargaining sessions with the fire department union;
  • He charged two and a half hours of comp time for an afternoon budget meeting with former Mayor Michael Hancock;
  • He repeatedly awarded himself comp time for attending weekend community events like the Servicio De La Raza festival, a Chanukah festival and menorah lighting at the state capitol, a Cesar Chavez march and community event and the Juneteenth Parade;
  • He gave himself three hours of comp time for a weekend appearance at a Denver church where he appears to have helped hand out smoke alarms;
  • In 2023, he repeatedly tallied comp time hours for attending mayoral forums and other political events;
  • When Hancock was giving his farewell speech on July 12, 2023, Fulton's records show he recorded one and a half hours of comp time for apparently attending the event. Hancock is the mayor who appointed Fulton as fire chief in 2020.

Denver's municipal code appears to explicitly forbid the fire department's executive staff from accruing comp time. The city code reads, "Division chiefs, deputy chief and the chief of the fire department who work overtime after the end of a regular shift shall not be compensated."

With Fulton declining interview requests, it's unclear why he and his executive staff believed they should be compensated with comp time year after year.

Comp or flex time can be used the same as vacation time and Fulton has been doing that according to his records. But by using flex or comp time for time off, actual vacation days can be cashed in at the end of each year, which Fulton and his executive staff have done.

Records show that for 2021, 2022 and 2023, Fulton was able to return unused vacation days and was paid $42,000 for that unused vacation time, or an average of about $14,000 each year on top of his annual salary. For the same three years, his deputy chief and division chiefs also cashed in unused vacation time and collected a total of roughly $120,000 between all of them.

The practice of "selling" unused vacation time back to the city at the end of the year is allowed for all fire department members, but department emails show rank-and-file firefighters are heavily pressured to use all of their vacation days every year, essentially preventing them from cashing out many unused vacation days, as the executive staff has been doing regularly.

CBS News Colorado reached out to the Denver Fire Department with several questions and on Tuesday, a department spokesperson said they were working on getting us answers.

Fulton appears to have set his own work hours and for the last few years, worked a 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday schedule. His records show that when he needed to do something work-related on a weekday afternoon, evening or weekend, he would collect comp time.

So when he engaged in union negotiations on two weekdays in April 2022, beginning at 2:30 p.m., he collected comp time.

When he met with Hancock's chief of staff on a Friday afternoon in October 2022 from 2:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m., that led to three hours of comp time.

For going to a Tuesday afternoon forum with Mayor Michael Johnston and the City Council last August to discuss homelessness, he racked up five hours of comp time for the event that began at 2:30 p.m.

Since Johnston was elected mayor, Fulton has collected comp time for being present at 11 different events which primarily took place during weekday afternoons and evenings. He collected 44.5 hours of comp time for being at those mayoral forums.

The current firefighter who spoke to CBS News Colorado said that what's been happening is "insulting to the taxpayer. He ends up getting this big payoff for doing things that's part of his job anyway. It's crazy. It's disingenuous and it's disrespectful to the taxpayers and to the firefighters as well."

While the investigation by the Denver Department of Public Safety is in its early stages, investigators will likely want to examine the comp time records for the department's deputy chief and division chiefs, who also amassed significant hours of comp time over the last three years. But in many cases, their timesheets repeatedly show them earning as much as ten hours of comp time in a day, but offering no explanation for how the time was earned.

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