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Denver firefighter challenges bosses over comp time

Denver firefighter challenges bosses over comp time
Denver firefighter challenges bosses over comp time 02:38

A newer Denver firefighter is standing up to his bosses, essentially saying when it comes to earning comp time, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander." In April, a series of CBS News Colorado investigations revealed Denver Fire Chief Desmond Fulton and some of his executive staff were tracking comp time they said they were earning, tallying comp time hours for attending everything from memorial services for firefighters to going to community events. 

That news reporting prompted Denver firefighter Shane Walter, who joined the department in 2022, to email his commanders on May 9, about three weeks after the television reporting, asking for comp time. According to the email, obtained by CBS News Colorado via an open records request, Walter said when he was in the fire academy he was required "to show up as early as 0415 and stayed until 1630 or later every night." Walter's email went on to read, "On top of that we were required to study at home on average of 2 hours every night and on weekends to pass our required exams because the material on the tests was not covered during class times."

Denver Fire Department Headquarters  CBS

Walter questioned why higher-ups were able to track their comp time hours when he wasn't afforded the same opportunity, "I am asking how in light of our fire chiefs collecting comp time in the same time period for comp time that I was required to work."

Walter's request followed the broadcast investigation which showed that Denver Fire Chief Desmond Fulton, who earns $230,000 per year, had 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 a mass shooting.

It's a practice one veteran firefighter called "disgusting" and appears to be prohibited by Denver's municipal code. 

Fulton refused to be interviewed but said in a statement, "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."

Denver's Manager of Safety said he was unaware of the practice and immediately stopped it, initiating an independent investigation. That investigation is ongoing according to the Department of Safety and details will be shared when the investigation is completed.

Fulton's records show he was then able to use earned comp time to cover his vacations, and cash in unused vacation days at the end of each year.

Walter's correspondence indicates he first brought up the comp time/overtime issue in 2022 asking a supervisor what Walter should do about overtime.

"You don't work more than 40 hours a week," Walter said the supervisor responded. Walter said he then approached a union representative who said, "You're a recruit, we all did it. The union isn't going to do anything."

When Walter renewed his request in May, following the CBS News Colorado Investigation, and filed a grievance, fire department commanders issued chilly responses to Walter. On May 20, Shift Commander Michael Shepherd emailed Walter saying "It is particularly egregious to use the latest news stories regarding an investigation of Department leaders' usage of comp time and flex time as a platform and/or justification to advance your own cause. Further action by you to do this would be considered insubordination," wrote Shepherd.   

Walter declined to discuss the escalating comp time issue with CBS News Colorado. 

On June 11, Wendi Moeder, the Division Chief of Administration, wrote Walter and again scolded him for pushing the comp time issue.

"It is disappointing that despite you already having been given a response to overtime and comp time during Academy onboarding, and having the contract language at your disposal, you still took a negative news story and tried to use it to get backpay or comp time for yourself. While I do not believe you are owed any comp time or overtime," wrote Moeder, "it is entirely up to you if you wish to continue pursuing this matter."

A fire department spokesperson declined to further discuss the issue saying the department's position was covered in documents provided to CBS News Colorado.

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