Audit of Opportunities for Civilianization in CFD

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit of civilianization opportunities in the Chicago Fire Department (CFD) to identify whether there were positions held by uniformed members that could instead be filled by civilians.[1] OIG and CFD agreed that positions which did not require or benefit sufficiently from firefighter or paramedic training, experience, or credibility, or did not supervise positions engaged in firefighting or paramedic functions, would warrant possible civilianization.[2]

As of January 1, 2014 CFD had 4,639 employees. Ninety-five percent held positions budgeted in the Bureau of Operations, which consisted of five divisions: Fire Suppression and Rescue, Emergency Medical Services, Special Operations, Training, and Airport Operations. The remaining 234 employees held positions budgeted in CFD’s 5 other bureaus and offices: Office of the Fire Commissioner, Office of the First Deputy Fire Commissioner, Bureau of Logistics, Bureau of Fire Prevention, and Bureau of Administrative Services. We compared CFD’s organizational charts with personnel budget data and identified positions that did not appear to be primarily involved in, or had duties in addition to, emergency response and therefore could be eligible for civilianization. We learned that actual job duties were not always documented in position descriptions or titles, as in the case of two firefighters who served as mail carriers. Therefore, we also asked CFD to identify all employees who may have appeared on the budget documents and organizational charts to be assigned to emergency response duties but in fact were not.[3] We ultimately identified and discussed with CFD the positions and duties of 555 uniformed members, including 384 that, as of January 1, 2014, did not appear to be primarily involved in, or had duties in addition to, emergency response. The other 171 were either uniformed members on temporary assignments outside their normal duties, or uniformed members known to have been granted a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Based upon the results of our audit, we concluded that,

  • CFD assigned 35 uniformed members to positions that did not require firefighter or paramedic training and experience, costing the City an estimated $4.5 million annually in overtime to backfill operational gaps created by these assignments. CFD could save an estimated $1.2 million annually by civilianizing 34 of these positions, returning the uniformed members to operations, and eliminating 1 position.[4]
  • CFD provided at least 13 ADA reasonable accommodations either informally or without proper approval. Furthermore, CFD could not determine whether it had identified all uniformed members who had been granted accommodations.

OIG recommends that CFD civilianize 34 of the 35 positions mentioned above because the positions do not legally or operationally require or otherwise benefit sufficiently from firefighter or paramedic training, experience, or credibility, or do not supervise positions engaged in firefighting or paramedic functions. In addition, we recommend that CFD eliminate the commissary liaison position and develop other controls to settle disputes between uniformed members and the vendor.

There are likely to be more positions in CFD that could be civilianized, therefore we recommend that CFD undertake a comprehensive assessment of all uniformed member assignments to identify other opportunities for civilianization.[5] In addition, we recommend that CFD assess temporary assignments before assigning them to uniformed members to determine if the assignments could be performed by civilians. CFD should also develop a method to identify, track, and routinely review all temporary assignments to ensure uniformed members are returned to operations in a timely manner and temporary assignments have not passively defaulted or otherwise evolved into permanent positions.

To ensure transparency and accountability, including for budget and oversight purposes, we recommend that CFD document job descriptions for all positions and ensure the Department of Human Resources (DHR) and Office of Budget and Management (OBM) are informed of the actual responsibilities of uniformed members (not just their titles). This would entail communication about current assignments as well as defining a process to ensure DHR and OBM are informed of future assignments.

Finally, we recommend that CFD comply with the City’s Reasonable Accommodation Policy by ensuring all ADA reasonable accommodation requests are submitted to DHR’s Disability Officer for review and approval or denial.

In response to our audit findings and recommendations, CFD stated that it agreed with OIG’s recommendation for 32 of the 35 positions and described why it disagreed with eliminating one position and civilianizing two remaining positions. CFD also agreed with OIG’s recommendations to assess all positions, monitor and track temporary assignments, and ensure that job descriptions reflect actual responsibilities of uniformed positions. Finally, CFD agreed to comply with the City’s Reasonable Accommodation policy and asserted that it has already implemented compliance procedures responsive to the issues surfaced by OIG’s audit.

[1] The definition of “uniformed members” is established in the Municipal Code of Chicago § 2-36-020 titled “Membership of the uniformed service.” It states, “The following employees of the fire department, namely, the fire commissioner, the deputy commissioners, all chief officers and all subordinate officers and firefighters, fire engineers and paramedics, shall constitute the uniformed service and be known and designated as members of the fire department.” See Appendix A for a full list of job titles included in “uniformed members” and the oath of office to which CFD members swear.

[2] These criteria were based on a CFD position classification study completed in August 1993 by the Chicago Department of Personnel at the request of the Office of Budget and Management. We found them to be reasonable based on similar criteria used in civilianization analyses of the Los Angeles Fire Department, New York Fire Department, Oklahoma City Fire Department, and Wilmington, Delaware Fire Department.

[3] OIG did not independently verify the completeness and accuracy of all position information because it would have required interviewing each CFD employee regarding his or her assigned duties. We relied on CFD to self-report any uniformed members performing duties other than those indicated in the documentation.

[4] In this report we refer to “operations” and “operational positions” as those positions requiring the training, experience, credibility, or supervision of firefighters or paramedics.

[5] For example, New York, NY, Philadelphia, PA, and St. Paul, MN all employ civilians to inspect buildings for fire code compliance. Chicago’s Bureau of Fire Protection employs only uniformed members.

NOTE: In July 2017, this report was reissued with this notice regarding a discrepancy in the total number of positions identified for civilianization,  which was discovered during our audit follow-up inquiry (see OIG File #17-0042). The two Telecommunications Specialist positions identified herein for civilianization were, in fact, only one position. Two CFD members shared the role for a period of several weeks during the audit and were therefore counted as inhabiting two positions. CFD considers this to be one position, though it did not dispute or otherwise seek to clarify the findings at the time of the audit. Therefore, the total number of positions OIG identified for civilianization or elimination is effectively 34, rather than 35, of which CFD would have agreed to civilianize 31, rather than 32.