Overtime costs add up after Salem China blaze

SALEM — Overtime costs for Salem city personnel the night of the former Salem China Company fire and the days following totaled nearly $15,000.

City Auditor Betty Brothers calculated the costs by looking at the overtime for the police, street and fire departments related to the fire which occurred Nov. 28. The figure is strictly the overtime and doesn’t include what personnel were paid for working their regular shifts.

During incidents requiring more than the four-person crew on duty, the fire department calls in off-duty personnel, and they’re paid overtime. Fire personnel work 24-hour shifts, while full-time police patrol officers typically work 12-hour shifts.

The fire department racked up the most overtime, not only fighting the fire when it broke that evening and all night long into the next day but also having to do spot checks for several days as hot spots kept smoldering. Brothers said the department had 320 hours of overtime for a total of $12,575.

The police department recorded a total of 49.5 hours of overtime at a cost of $1,510 for traffic control and security, while the street department logged 18 hours of overtime at a cost of $720 related to putting up barricades and providing other help.

Added all together, that’s $14,805 in overtime costs for a fire that’s resulted in two teens being charged for allegedly starting it. For the city, she said that’s a cost of doing business.

That doesn’t include the cost for the multiple departments from other communities who came to Salem’s aid and spent hours and hours covering Salem’s other calls and battling the Salem China blaze. That also doesn’t cover the wear and tear on their equipment.

The Salem Fire Department lost a $10,000 thermal imaging camera during the fire, so there’s that added cost, although the replacement cost will be covered by the city’s insurance. The city also used 1.2 million gallons of water fighting the fire at a cost of $2,727.

Brothers said she’s still waiting for a bill from Agland Co-op for a fuel truck which came to the scene to refill the many fire trucks from Salem and all over which were running low on gas. She had no estimate for that cost. An excavator donated his time and services the night of the fire and the next day. Numerous businesses and individuals donated food for the first responders.

According to the fire report, the property itself, which is owned by the Church Budget envelope company and used for storage of paper and other equipment, was valued at $200,000. The contents were valued at $450,000 and were insured, but the building was not.

The cases against the two teens remain pending in Juvenile Court.