by Vanessa Perez
Tuesday, June 15th 2021
KALISPELL, Mont. — Kalispell Fire Station 62 on the north end of town continues to cope with temporary closures due to insufficient staffing that began last July. The department hired three people in February. However, they continue to face closures.
Don Thibert, president of the Kalispell Professional Firefighters Local 547, says sometimes it can take a significant amount of time to train and get new hires working independently on a shift. Thibert says they had to call mutual aid six times last Friday.
“That’s the unfortunate scenario is when our departments are understaffed, and we have those calls for help that stack up on top of each other we have to rely on outside agencies,” he said. Thibert says it takes away from other stations’ ability to respond in their own areas.
The station also had one person retire in the last couple of months, and there could potentially be another one later this year.
They’re currently going through another hiring process again to fill one vacancy, which will bring them back to 30 team members.
We asked if that’s going to stop the closures. “It’s hard to say. I would say that it won’t stop quickly, we’ll still likely see station closures. Hopefully it’s reduced,” Thibert said.
Kalispell City Manager Doug Russell says they have enough staffing authorized and hired to be able to keep stations open.
“In a lot of cases, whenever we have that situation, we see that we have as many people taking leave that we’re contractually bound to, so we can’t manage through that avenue, we have to allow for that leave to occur, and then we’ll end up with sick leave callouts,” he said.
Russell says sick leave callouts are mostly the reason for closures. But he notes apparatuses can respond from the south station.
He says the new hires will be working a 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift once they’re fully trained. “It should be able to have a big impact on reducing those calls for mutual aid, so everything is going in the right direction. it’s just a matter of getting there and getting people trained and out onto the floor and providing the service,” Russell said.
Russell says in the city’s upcoming budget, they authorized two more personnel if they’re able to successfully obtain a SAFER grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Station 62 remains closed until Wednesday.