Franklin fire and rescue responded to 2,670 calls in 2013

Published 11:14 am Saturday, August 9, 2014

FRANKLIN—Back during the budget workshop period, city council was concerned about overtime spending for the Franklin Fire and Rescue Department, as during the 2013-14 budget they had exceeded the projection of $110,000 by $39,657. In 2014-15, council upped the fire and rescue overtime budget to $132,000.

As a result, Franklin City Council had requested that Chief Vince Holt bring to council a breakdown of calls that it received in 2013, and he also included the calls up to April 2014. This data was brought to council on Monday, July 28, though the city did not press the chief to go into detail.

The total fire calls received for 2013 were 746, and of that, 177 related to fire or public service calls. The A-shift responded to 307 total calls, the B-shift 192 and the C-shift 247.

On the EMS side, there were a total of 1,747 calls in 2013 — 591 for the A-shift, 580 for the B-shift and 576 for the C-shift. Added together, total calls in total for the year were 2,670.

From January to April 2014, the department has responded to 921 calls in total, which was up from the previous year. By April 2013, fire and EMS crews had responded to 803 total calls.

In 2013, Fire and Rescue responded to 452 calls in Southampton County. So far this year, the department has responded to 166 calls in the county.

As far as overtime, Holt previously said that a lot of it is built into a normal work schedule for firefighters.

Firefighters work what is called a 21-7 schedule, meaning over a 21-day period, they work seven 24-hour shifts. Due to an exemption, overtime doesn’t start until a firefighter works more than 159 hours over a 21-day period.

Holt used the example of January 2014. A firefighter would start his or her 21-day cycle on Tuesday, Jan. 7 by working 24 hours on that day, having Jan. 8 off, coming back and working 24 hours on Jan. 9, having Jan. 10 off, then working 24 hours on Saturday, Jan. 11. He or she would have the day off on Sunday, then come back and work 24 hours on Monday, Jan. 13. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the firefighter in this particular shift would be off.

On Friday, Jan. 17, he or she would work a 24-hour shift, and would be off on Saturday. On Sunday, Jan., 19, the firefighter would work a 24-hour shift and be off on Monday and Tuesday.

And on Wednesday, Jan. 22, the trouble would start. It’s what Chief Holt referred to as a Kelly day. The last 9 hours of that 24-hour shift would go over 159 hours, and be built in overtime.

Holt said there are 17 Kelly days every year for the department as a whole. Figuring up those 17 9-hour periods would equal about $97,000 of the overtime hours requested by just working the regular schedule, Holt said. Therefore, Holt was budgeting for about $34,000 of true overtime, which includes everything including covering sick days and handling major fires.

In Virginia, the schedule the department uses is pretty standard, said Holt. You have to get into busier and larger cities such New York City before you find major differences.

The only Virginia exception Holt noted was in Chesapeake, but that’s only because the Kelly days are factored into firefighter’s base salary so that it isn’t listed as an overtime expense.

“What it does is it makes it look like they are offering a higher salary for firefighters, which makes them more competitive,” he said.

Holt said the only way to avoid the $97,000 in overtime expenses would be to add an additional shift, but he added that would cost more money in the long run than simply paying the overtime.

“For the money we are spending, it doesn’t make it feasible to try to schedule less hours,” he said. “And even if we did try, that would make us less competitive with the other localities. They are all working the same schedules, so the earning potential for our firefighters would drop.”