Utah fire departments juggle hours due to health care mandate

Feb 20 2014 - 2:07pm

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Fire departments across the Wasatch Front are making changes due to the Affordable Care Act, in some cases meaning fewer firefighter hours will be worked.

Most small fire departments in Davis and Weber counties are manned by part-time firefighters. Even large ones, like Layton Fire Department, depend on part-time firefighters, even though they have 50 full-time firefighters.

And due to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, fire agencies like Roy and Kaysville are cutting the hours their part-time firefighters work. 

The ACA mandates any business or organization that has more than 50 employees must provide health insurance to anyone working 30 hours or more. Kaysville Fire Chief Brett Larkin said his fire department has 35 part-time firefighters and one full-time firefighter -- him. 

His firefighters are not allowed to work more than 29 hours a week or the city has to provide those firefighters with health insurance. 

The majority of his firefighters either work full-time with another fire agency or are working with several fire departments in hopes of getting a full-time job. 

Larkin said he has cut the hours down to 20 hours a week so his firefighters don't go over the 29 if they are called out on a large home fire or industrial fire.

"Fire departments are 24-7 operations that require a lot of people, and small communities like Kaysville can't have four or five stations," Larkin said. "We've worked well for a lot of years and it's a shame we have to change due to a mandate. I think this is an unintended consequence someone didn't think about." 

Larkin is not the only chief charting a new course.

Roy Fire Chief Jason Poulsen is in the same boat. He has to make sure none of his part-time employees work more than 29 hours a week for his agency. 

Poulsen said many of his part-time firefighters also work for other agencies and more times than not, they are holding down two or three part-time jobs in hopes of getting hired on full-time with at least one agency. 

Even though fire agencies are cutting back the hours their part-time employees are working, "It won't impact the service the community receives," Poulsen said. 

Poulsen said agencies like his and Kaysville are considering hiring additional part-time employees, but that will cost more too because of the cost for gear, uniforms, background checks, training and drug screenings.

"It's the cost of business," Poulsen said.

Layton Fire Chief Kevin Ward said he has had to cut back the hours his 36 part-time firefighters worked from 34 hours a week to 29. And because of the cuts in hours, he has had to hire three additional part-time firefighters to cover the shifts. 

Contact reporter Loretta Park at 801-625-4252 or lpark@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @LorettaParkSE. 

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