By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Huskies on the beat

My Northeastern colleague Walter Robinson’s students once again lead the Boston Globe, this time with a first-rate investigative story on expensive shift-swapping abuses within the Boston Fire Department.


Way out of bounds in New Haven


The last word (I hope) on the Googletron and me


  1. James Harvey

    An interesting bit of reporting, but it left me scratching my head while I looked for the scam. Good work by the students uncovering a highly suspicious activity, but from what they showed, it’s really hard to tell who’s getting hurt by this practice.

    Is shift swapping really costing the taxpayer anything? The only concrete example of a cost (calling in sick after a shift-swap) seems strange (why excessively call in sick in this particular scenario?) but it’s hard to see who benefits from the sick-swap.

    It seems like there are several possible scams that could be hinted at by reviewing the same records the students reviewed:

    -Are there a small number of firefighters who have amassed a huge surplus of swap days? Are these guys getting paid under the table (tax fraud)? Are they going to come after the city later for unpaid shifts they worked? Is there some kind of kickback going on?

    -Are there a large number of firefighters who have a small surplus, and the big-deficit guys are just small-time con men who are their brothers’ generosity? If so, why is the union coming to the defense of the big-deficit guys?

    -Is there any benefit to working extra unpaid shifts, like an accelerated promotion schedule?

    -Is there a pattern to which firefighters fill in on the overtime shifts when someone calls in sick? (Do the firefighters use the sick-day system to swap regular shifts for overtime shifts?)

    There’s something here that stinks, but it seems like the students didn’t quite get to the bottom of it.

  2. Mike Benedict

    I’m with James. I read the piece twice and couldn’t figure out whether the taxpayers are getting screwed. Certainly some of the firemen who are picking up shifts might be out some cash, but as the story alluded to, money is returned under the table. Even then, taxes would have been taken out of the original salary, so there’s no net loss to the Treasury.

    The piece did mention that should the covering FF then call in sick, the next guy on the list gets time and a half, so there could be some abuse there. Hard to say what the total cost to the system is, though: it’s not tallied.

    However, in terms of pensions, working fewer (or more) shifts than the next guy doesn’t seem to affect the pension payout. Did a few of these guys work so little they should have been canned? Yes. Is it an epidemic that is costing the taxpayers? Not so easy to say based on the reporting.

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