The firefighters who just showed up at your house for a medical emergency or to douse a neighbor’s house fire might have already worked 40 hours or more that week at a side hustle unrelated to their fire service duties.
They may have cooked at a local steak house, pulled extra shifts with an area fire department or a private ambulance service, written mortgage loans, taught at a local college, installed hardwood flooring or worked on remodeling a house they are hoping to flip for a six-figure profit.
Or something else entirely.
Colorado Springs Fire Department’s sworn personnel do those side jobs — and others — while still bringing in taxpayer-funded salaries ranging from $60,468 for the lowest-level firefighter to $126,936 for battalion chiefs, not including overtime.
But the records the city keeps on firefighters’ outside employment make it impossible for the public, let alone their supervisors to know for sure who’s doing what when, or whether any of that work intersects with the city in a way that might pose a conflict of interest.
While firefighters are asked to disclose hours per week they spend on outside jobs, an Indy investigation found that some file Outside Employment Forms only after they’ve started or finished the work and many never file them at all, leaving the administration in the dark.
Those who do reveal their side gigs aren’t required to name the companies for which they work or the clients those companies serve.
Moreover, there’s scant evidence that management actively monitors outside work to assure firefighters are fit for duty for city jobs that can involve life-or-death decisions.
All that said, it’s not uncommon for firefighters across the country to work side jobs, and a union representative defends the practice, saying it doesn’t interfere with firefighters’ city job performance.
A department spokesperson says not a single firefighter has been disciplined for failing to notify supervisors they’re working second jobs and downplayed the irregularities in the reporting forms, which are required by policy.
“We don’t verify or monitor outside employment,” says Public Information Officer Capt. Michael Smaldino in response to questions on behalf of the department.
But Smaldino says the Indy’s analysis underscored irregularities in documentation, prompting Fire Chief Randy Royal to remind firefighters each year to file the forms.
“You brought something up that needs to be better,” Smaldino says by phone. “We’re going to make sure that form is up to date.”
Royal declined an interview.
City Councilor Bill Murray, who served 12 years in fire service in another state, says poor record-keeping could come back to bite the department.
“We build this framework for checks and balances to make sure we don’t run afoul,” Murray says. “But if you don’t monitor it, it’s like if you’re not monitoring speeding. Eventually there’s a crash, and then you go back and say, ‘Why weren’t you monitoring speeding?’ If this is a rule, you gotta follow the rules. The bottom line is, if it’s a requirement, follow it."
Many departments nationwide allow firefighters to work outside jobs and even run their own companies. They’re enabled to do that by work schedules that accommodate such secondary employment.
Some departments assign firefighters 48-hour shifts followed by four days off, for example.
In Colorado Springs, firefighters work one 24-hour day on duty, one off, one on, one off, one on and then have four consecutive days off.
To fill those days, Springs firefighters have performed a range of work. They fill shifts with other departments, including Colorado Centre (one Springs firefighter even served as assistant chief), Cimarron Hills, Cripple Creek, Custer County, Northeast Teller County, Tri-Lakes, Broadmoor and Black Forest Fire and Rescue.
EMS services where firefighters have picked up work include Rocky Mountain Mobile Medical, Schriever Air Force Base, Med-Trans Corp., Action Care Ambulance, Cripple Creek EMS, Ute Pass and American Medical Response, the city’s emergency ambulance contractor.
They’ve also worked at First Choice Emergency Room, Children’s Hospital Colorado, UCHealth Memorial, Centura Health, St. Anthony Hospital and for a home health care company.
At least 20 have taught fire science, trained paramedics or taught other courses at Pikes Peak Community College.
But firefighters do all sorts of jobs: real estate appraiser, manager and developer; Amway representative; volleyball and swim coach; construction; farming and ranching; landscaping; woodworking; flooring and tile installer; automotive repair; insurance inspections; archery technician; excavation; scuba diving, CrossFit and shooting instructor; tour guide; school bus driver; horse trainer; warehouse worker; Army National Guardsman; handyman service; running a nutrition company; mortgage banker; health insurance broker; Christmas light installer; coffee shop worker; Uber driver; and cook.
The Outside Employment Form used by the Fire Department contains a notice that “the outside employment specified in this document does not violate any of the requirements of the City’s Policy and Procedures Manual....”
The manual, which applies to all city employees, restricts city workers from holding simultaneous positions with the city, or any entity that is owned by the city and/or operates under the auspices of the City Council, “if the combined hours exceed 40 hours per week.
“An exception, as defined by the Fair Labor Standards Act, is occasional, sporadic part-time employment,” the policy manual says, such as sports officials or instructors. Also, the part-time work cannot be within the city department in which the employee works full time.
As for outside employment, the manual states:
“No employee shall engage in any employment or activity, which creates a conflict of interest or appearance of conflict of interest with their duties as a City employee.
“If an employee holds a second job in addition to the City position, the employee must immediately notify their Department Director or Council/Mayoral Appointee in writing. (In the case of the Police Department, approval by the Chief is required.) The employee shall consider the City position as primary and take appropriate steps to avoid jeopardizing the commitment to the primary position.
The employee must ensure that the employment does not violate the Business Code of Ethics (Conflict of Interest) Policy #39 and that no relationship exists between the second employer or activity, and any inspections, supervision, or contracts which are part of the employee’s normal job with the City. The second job or self-employment may not be conducted during working hours, in City Buildings, nor may supplies or equipment be used to conduct such business.”
Policy No. 39, the Business Code of Ethics, generally requires employees to avoid conflicts of interest or the appearance of a conflict and “conduct their activities with the organization’s best interest in mind.”
It further states that employees “must disclose promptly” any circumstance that might constitute a conflict or the appearance of one. For example, they must tell their supervisor of any direct or indirect financial interest in any city-wide contract, any matter before City Council or its boards and commissions, sale of land to the city, material supplies, services to the city and any contractor supply services to the city.
In addition, the policy mandates that employees “be truthful and accurate when communicating and reporting all activities.”
Similar language appears in the Fire Department’s policy manual which, in addition, requires sworn firefighters to be available for emergency call-out without prior notice; to refuse without good cause could bring punishment, to include termination.
It’s hard to imagine how fire officials can gauge the level of compliance with those policies, based on the Outside Employment Forms (OEFs). The Indy obtained records of currently serving sworn personnel through a Colorado Open Records Act request, for which the city charged $765.
Those and Colorado Secretary of State business records show:
• 148 of the department’s roughly 444 sworn firefighters have OEFs on file that report they do or have done outside work. Based on the forms, it’s impossible to determine how many of those still work outside jobs, because many don’t fill in the form’s “completion date,” or state that the work is “ongoing,” “indefinite” or “N/A.”
• The Indy cross-referenced the state incorporation records with the list of roughly 440 sworn firefighters. Our survey found that current firefighters created at least 74 businesses without reporting to the city or their department they were running their own companies. Of those, 38 remain in “good standing,” state business records show, meaning they’re considered viable businesses. The others were either dissolved by the owners or deemed delinquent for lack of filing paperwork to keep them current.
• About a dozen firefighters submitted OEFs stating they did not do any sideline work but subsequently created businesses they didn’t tell the city about.
• The higher the rank, the more apt firefighters are to report working an outside job. While only 28 percent of firefighters have had a second job or are currently working one, up to 44 percent of driver engineers and 56 percent of lieutenants do or have done so.
The Indy’s records analysis found firefighters created dozens of companies without the city’s knowledge. And while some firefighters that have filled out the required paperwork cite the names of companies or agencies for whom they work or the businesses they created, many do not. And apparently the CSFD doesn’t require firefighters to list clients served by the companies they either work for or own.
Also of concern: Many forms were filed years after the firefighter started the work, raising the question about how management can deem the work compliant with policies, and approve it, after the fact.
For example, Ryan Royal, son of recently named Fire Chief Randy Royal, filed an OEF on Jan. 12, 2014, stating he did not perform outside employment.
But he started two companies in 2018 to flip houses and manage real estate, state records show. One has since been declared delinquent for lack of filing required paperwork, but the other remains in good standing.
He didn’t report that activity in an OEF until Jan. 20 this year, noting he was engaged in “self directed real estate purchasing.” His supervisor and then-Chief Ted Collas signed off on Jan. 25, two days before the Indy reported Royal’s involvement in controversial real estate deals with Ithaka Land Trust and a Denver-area firefighter/developer. Ithaka owes the city $629,233 in loans. Royal’s father, Randy Royal, became fire chief last month.
The fire department has declined to comment on the situation, citing confidentiality of personnel issues, so it’s not publicly known if a legal opinion was sought prior to approving Royal’s developer activities after the fact.
Thus, if the purpose of OEFs is to identify potential conflicts of interest or over-burdensome work in advance, it appears they don’t fulfill that mission.
Lastly, there’s no limit on how much time firefighters can spend working second jobs, and it’s unclear who, if anyone, monitors whether firefighters comply with their self-reported number of outside work hours.
One firefighter wrote on his OEF that he’s worked 32 to 40 hours a week as a senior mortgage banker since 2016, or “Every day I’m not at CSFD.”
Firefighters holding second jobs is so common that it’s discussed on numerous websites.
FireRescue1.com, for example, offers a list of “7 perfect side jobs for firefighters,” and characterizes them as providing “cushion [for] a modest firefighter paycheck.”
Those seven perfect side jobs were chosen, in part, due to their flexibility. They are: instructor for advanced life support, CPR and pediatric advanced life support; emergency technician, which includes phlebotomy, transfusion clinics, stress testing labs and emergency departments; bartender; landscaper or groundskeeper; personal trainer; real estate agent; and carpenter.
Another website, Firefighternow.com, says, “If you’d like to pad your bank account, it helps to have a side hustle or a second job.” It then lists “21 Best Side Jobs for Firefighters,” which include dog walker, delivery driver, tow truck driver, youth league coach or referee, customer service rep, security guard and blogger.
Studies are hard to find regarding firefighters who hold second jobs, but researchers with the University of Washington, Seattle, produced a report in 1994 called “Firefighters and Paramedics: Years of Service, Job Aspirations, and Burnout.”
“Because of low pay and long periods of off duty time, 25% to 40% of firefighters and paramedics hold second jobs,” the study noted. “Thus, they are vulnerable to carryover effects of ‘second job stress.’”
Curt Crumb, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5 in Colorado Springs, says the union wants to protect members’ ability to work outside jobs to supplement their income. Some firefighters’ spouses don’t work, so an extra job provides a second income, he says by phone.
But does the second job drain firefighters’ energy and place the public at risk due to a less-than-alert responder? “I don’t buy that argument,” Crumb says.
What’s the difference between working outside jobs and pulling overtime shifts, he asks. “I could, in fact, if I worked the system, could work a ton of overtime,” he says. “It would be tough for me to argue that doing something on the side would be a detriment as far as the well-being of the firefighter.”
The city has relied on loading up firefighters with extra shifts to fill the ranks for years. It paid $6.3 million in overtime in 2016, roughly 10 percent of the department’s budget. That’s gone down to about 6 percent of the budget, but the city still spent $4.5 million on overtime last year. Computed based on the lowest-level firefighter position, that equates to about 100,000 hours a year, or roughly 4.5 hours per week for every sworn firefighter in the department.
Crumb also questions how working a second job differs from the physical exertion of someone who spends six hours on a mountain bike on a day off or works to remodel his or her own house. “I understand the optic of it but ... fitness for duty doesn’t apply just to outside employment,” he says. “As firefighters, we have to approach our job with seriousness, professionalism, and one of those things is to come to work prepared to do our job physically. In my opinion, this has not been a problem here.”
As for potential conflicts of interest, Crumb says one firefighter paramedic recently sought to work shifts for the city’s ambulance contractor, American Medical Response, and was denied after the city’s legal department deemed it a conflict of interest.
It’s the only time anyone has been denied an outside work request that he’s aware of, and it’s worth noting that another firefighter worked shifts for AMR about eight years ago, city records show, while AMR served the city, though it didn’t directly contract with the city. Crumb says that firefighter quit the side job on his own volition, not because the CSFD told him to.
Crumb says the department’s administration has told firefighters the forms are necessary but don’t seem all that interested in enforcing the rules. Nor do firefighters appear dedicated to compliance, as the Indy’s records review suggests.
“I don’t think there’s a really significant push [for compliance],” he says. “There’s so many other fish to fry, this one falls to the bottom of the list pretty quickly.”
He admits that he never gave it a thought to fill one out himself for his executive board position with Local 5, though several other board members have filed OEFs stating the time commitment ranged from four to 10 hours a week. Slots on the board pay from about $3,300 to $16,450 a year, so technically meet the criteria of a side job.
“I’m guilty of it,” he says. “I didn’t fill out a form.”
The Fire Department soft-pedals its record-keeping problems. Though Smaldino says the purpose of the form is “to inform the department of outside employment,” it appears the administration takes little or no action to verify the information is accurate or submitted in a timely way.
Asked how the department determines if the proposed outside work meets the city’s policies, Smaldino says, “Employees are responsible for complying with all policies relating to outside employment.”
Asked what happens if a firefighter works a second job without telling supervisors about it, he says, “We will ask them to file the form. We have done a reminder to all and will do a beginning-of-the-year reminder to occur each year going forth.”
Asked how the city verifies the number of hours reported on the form is correct, whether there’s a limit and who monitors that, Smaldino says, “Employees are responsible for complying with all policies relating to outside employment. We don’t verify or monitor outside employment.”
Asked why firefighters are allowed to submit a form after the fact with no consequence and how the department could possibly make a judgment about compliance with policies months or years later, Smaldino just repeated his previous statement word-for-word that: “Employees are responsible for complying with all policies relating to outside employment.”
Lastly, the Indy asked how the department goes about making a conflict of interest ruling without knowing about jobs or what clients are served, Smaldino once again repeated, “Employees are responsible for complying with all policies relating to outside employment.”
He also says if the department discovers outside employment that hasn’t been reported, “then it will ask the employee to fill out the form and assess the situation on a case-by-case basis.”
Smaldino says firefighters are expected to follow the city’s and department’s code of conduct and ethics policies. “We do have trust in all our people that they’re going to do the right thing,” he says. “When it’s off duty, it’s off duty. We don’t manage their off time.”
As for discerning whether outside employment will impede a firefighter’s job performance, Smaldino says officials conduct evaluations “on a case-by-case basis.”
It’s impossible to know whether firefighters have been denied permission for second jobs, because Smaldino won’t discuss it, citing “confidential personnel matters.”
No one, though, has been disciplined for failing to notify the department of their outside activities or failing to do so in a timely way. “We asked them to fill out the form, and they complied,” he says.
Asked to describe the downsides and benefits of firefighters working extra jobs, Smaldino gave the same answer for both: “The impact would be different based on the nature of the outside employment and would need to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis.”
Unlike the CSFD, the Colorado Springs Police Department requires its personnel to obtain written prior permission before taking any outside work. Last year another Indy investigation found the CSPD punished nine officers who didn’t seek permission before moonlighting for Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell’s private investigation business, iXeros.
Punishment included reassignment of five from a special unit to patrol duties and a 60-hour suspension without pay for one.
CSPD’s policy requires officers to seek permission from the police chief through their chain of command. In doing so, they must describe duties of the secondary job and name the employer and the type of business. Officers are prohibited from working as investigators within the 4th Judicial District, which covers El Paso and Teller counties, or “in any employment in which police power might be used for private purposes of a civil nature.”
As a result, outside work is rare, says Lt. James Sokolik. Out of the department’s 1,100 employees, only about 75 work second jobs. He called outside-work requests “very infrequent.”
Of course, the fire service is different in many ways from police work. Firefighters don’t have arrest powers, for one.
But the ethics considerations are the same, under city policies.
City Council President Richard Skorman understands the appearance of impropriety from personal experience. When he served on Council 20 years ago, he ended up resigning as director of Leadership Pikes Peak, because some city employees had enrolled in the program and a citizen complained, saying it appeared those employees might be trying to curry favor by doing so.
Thus, while he’s not opposed to allowing firefighters to have outside jobs, Skorman says oversight is imperative.
”When they are ready to take a job or open up a small business or service, they should get the approval first,” he says.
Murray, who served 12 years on the Birmingham, Alabama, Fire Department, also worked a second job by serving in the Army Reserves. He also bought houses, renovated and then sold them.
So he’s not concerned about the fact that firefighters have second jobs.
But he is concerned about the irregular recording-keeping uncovered by the Indy’s analysis.
“The bottom line is,” Murray says, “if you don’t hold everybody accountable and to a standard, things just drift away.”
Mayor John Suthers also says he wants to see the department document outside work. "Outside employment and potential conflicts of interest are a matter of concern throughout the City to include the Fire Department, and the Mayor’s expectation is that CSFD will enforce its policy," a spokesperson for Suthers says via email. "To the extent it has not been effectively enforced prior to this, the Mayor’s expectation is that it will be going forward.”
Editor's note: This story was updated with a response from Mayor John Suthers.