Firefighters’ Kelly Days make for complicated budgeting

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Kelly Days are complicated. That’s the word from Kalispell Fire Chief Dan Diehl.

Diehl recently returned from vacation to find the city embroiled in a dispute with its firefighters over pay and layoffs, and one of the factors involved is Kelly Days — a term in common usage among fire departments across the country.

In short, a Kelly Day is a day off given to firefighters to bring the work week down to the negotiated number of hours. Without the Kelly Days, overtime would have to be paid to firefighters because of their unusually long shifts and complicated schedules.

 And Diehl said the schedule used by Kalispell firefighters is the most complicated of the three he has experienced.

The city started using its current three-platoon schedule in 2005 as a compromise. That schedule incorporates Kelly Days. Prior to 2005, the city had four firefighter platoons and didn’t use Kelly Days.

Currently, two platoons work nine shifts every 28-day pay period. One platoon works 10 shifts per pay period. Each firefighter on the 10-shift platoon is entitled to 10 Kelly Days per year, which amounts to 10 days off without pay. Kelly Days are not mandatory, however.

Each shift consists of a 24-hour work day followed by two days off. There are 13 pay periods in one year, which is based on 364 days in the firefighter schedule.

Diehl explained that the city’s firefighters work more hours than most other fire departments in the state — including Missoula, Helena and Bozeman — because of the three-platoon schedule. Most other fire departments use a four-platoon schedule, he said.

Kelly Days — but not Kelly Work Back Days — are incorporated into the contract and budget, Diehl said. Kelly Work Back Days occur when a firefighter works on someone else’s Kelly Day. Kelly Work Back Days are not accounted for in the budget, he said.

City Manager Jane Howington explained that firefighters are scheduled to work 2,834 hours a year in the current budget.

In Fiscal Year 2010, the city budgeted 2,764 hours per year for each firefighter, but firefighters actually worked an average of 2,810 hours.

That resulted in the Fire Department Fund going into deficit, which is something the city doesn’t want to happen this year. Hence the reason for using the 2,834-hour figure, which represents the maximum number of hours each firefighter can work.

Diehl explained that prior to 2005, Kalispell’s firefighters worked 2,184 hours per year on the four-platoon schedule. That included a 24-hour shift followed by 72 hours off. They currently work 24 hours followed by 48 hours off.

Three firefighters were hired some seven months ago with a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If the city lays off any firefighters during the period of the grant, Howington said the city is obligated to give that money back.

Howington recently found out there is a possibility of keeping half of the money, however.

“So many communities had to give it back” that FEMA started issuing waivers, she said. “We need to apply [for a waiver] and it should be approved.”

The city already has received half of the grant money for the firefighters — it received the first check last week — and likely wouldn’t have to give that amount back if it lays off firefighters, which it plans to do on May 15. The city wouldn’t receive the second half of the grant, however.

Reporter Caleb Soptelean may be reached at 758-4483 or by email at csoptelean@dailyinterlake.com.

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