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Denver fire chief, deputy chief and division chief collected nearly 90 hours of comp time connected to firefighter's death

Fire chiefs collected 90 hours of comp time after firefighter's death
Fire chiefs collected 90 hours of comp time after firefighter's death 04:05

When Denver Fire Department Technician Jeff Billingsley, 42, died on duty on September 20, 2021, he was remembered as a man who began working in the fire service while still in high school and was devoted to service for his professional career. 

He suffered an aortic aneurysm while on his shift. Gov. Jared Polis ordered flags around the state to be lowered to half-staff.

As it turns out, his unexpected death also led top fire department commanders to collect large chunks of comp time, a move one Denver firefighter called "classless."

According to records obtained by CBS News Colorado, on the day of Billingsley's death, Denver Fire Chief Desmond Fulton's timekeeping records showed that after his 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. shift ended, he immediately began collecting comp time for what he entered as "LODD Logistics."

LODD indicates a line-of-duty death, and firefighters say Fulton was involved in helping coordinate funeral arrangements and other logistics. He charged 7.5 hours for working on LODD logistics from 2:30 p.m. until 10 p.m.

That was the start of Billingsley's death leading to comp time for top department administrators.

In October 2022, Billingsley's service and sacrifice were celebrated at the annual National Fallen Firefighter's Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland. At the annual ceremony, fallen firefighters from around the nation are recognized, and their names are etched on a plaque.

The City of Denver sent a contingent to the 2022 weekend event. It included Fulton, Deputy Chief Kathleen Vredenburgh, Division Chief Alberto Paez and Manager of Safety Armando Saldate. The Manager of Safety's office says all travel expenses were paid by the city.

But records reviewed by CBS News Colorado show that Fulton, Vredenburgh, and Paez all billed the city comp time for attending the event honoring Billingsley and other fallen firefighters.

Denver Fire Department Capt. J.D. Chism, a spokesman for the department, said the three would not comment on their comp time billing. 

"Given that there is an impending investigation," said Chism. "We will not be providing further comment at this time."

Records show Fulton billed 9.5 hours of comp time for Saturday and Sunday, October 8 and 9, for a total of 19 hours. Vredenburgh billed 10 hours of comp time for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for a total of 30 hours. 

Paez also billed 10 hours of comp time for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for a total of 30 hours. Both Vredenburgh and Paez's comp time entries appear to be approved by the initials "DGF."

It's unclear why Vredenburgh and Paez billed comp time for Friday, October 7, as the event dates were October 8 and 9. 

Combined with Fulton's earlier billing in connection with Billingsley's death, the three cumulatively billed for 86.5 hours of comp time related to Technician Billingsley's passing.

"It's disgusting," said one current Denver firefighter, who asked his name not be revealed for fear of retribution.

"We do it because we respect the sacrifice that those firefighters have made. They gave their lives to save the community. I don't think anybody was aware they were charging for it," he said when rank and file firefighters attend memorials.

He said attending events like a fallen firefighter memorial, "was part of his (Fulton's) job."

Denver's municipal code appears to prohibit comp time for DFD executive staff members. 

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. Division chiefs, deputy chief, and the chief of the fire department shall not be compensated when called back to duty during normal time off."

Armando Saldate, the manager of safety, who also went on the trip, issued a statement saying he had no idea the fire department administrators reaped comp time for the memorial event.

"I was not aware of DFD command staff's use of Kelly/Flex time, including the trip to Maryland for the 2022 National Firefighters Memorial. I did not use flex time to attend the memorial, nor do I use flex time in my role as executive director."

He previously ordered an immediate stop to fire department commanders being awarded comp time, also saying he was commissioning an independent investigation into what has been happening.

Although Chief Fulton refused to be interviewed by CBS News Colorado about his comp time practices, he released a statement this week saying:

"I want my team in the fire department and our broader community to know that I've always followed what I believed were best practices to promote transparency and uphold the public's trust. Tracking Flex Time is a long-standing practice that fire chiefs have used for many years. During my transition into the Chief's appointment in 2020, I continued to follow the practice and track all activities and hours in our reporting system — a practice that has been in for at least the last decade by other department leads. I fully support an investigation of how these hours were used and have asked that department leaders cease this practice immediately."

CBS News Colorado's investigation found that there was a significant financial benefit to top commanders amassing comp time. They are able to use those days for time off and vacations, then "sell" their unused vacation days back to the city at the end of the year. 

Records indicate that from 2021 to 2023, Fulton received about $42,000 for unused vacation days. His executive staff collectively received about $120,000 for their unused vacation days over the same three-year period.

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston also joined the chorus of those calling for a stop to the comp time practice. 

He released a written statement saying:

"Denver expects our public safety work to be conducted with integrity and transparency. That's why I am calling for a review of how this practice has been used and am directing all command staff to cease this use immediately."

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