Kalispell city officials announced Wednesday afternoon that, after seven years running Kalispell’s fire department, Chief Randy Brodehl has retired.
Brodehl reached his decision to retire Monday, according to City Manager Jim Patrick, and his retirement took effect July 1. The city now begins the initial stages of its national search for a new Kalispell fire chief, a process which Patrick anticipates could take anywhere from nine months to a year, adding that it will take about four months to revise the fire chief’s job description and the department’s profile before formally posting the opening.
The announcement comes after several months in which city officials declined to comment on the status of Brodehl’s employment from repeated inquiries by the Flathead Beacon.
“We really do try to honor people’s right to privacy,” said City Attorney Charlie Harball. “Randy had a reasonable expectation that there would be some privacy there on his part.”
A call to Brodehl at his home number was not immediately returned.
Assistant Chief of Operations Dan Diehl has been the acting chief since late April, representing the department at city council meetings and running day-to-day operations at the station. Brodehl has not been present at the downtown fire station since late April, according to several firefighters. In that time, Brodehl has been on administrative leave and vacation, and has been receiving his regular pay from the city, Patrick said, adding that Brodehl was “still providing services” during that time.
For most of Brodehl’s recent absence, line firefighters did not know of the chief’s whereabouts or status within the department, but Patrick said the fire department still functioned well during that time.
“We knew; they didn’t need to know,” Patrick said of the firefighters. “They have their reporting chain and the chain took care of this.”
The city’s announcement of Brodehl’s retirement listed his accomplishments presiding over the Kalispell Fire Department in an era of rapid growth. According to the statement, under Brodehl’s tenure, which began in 2001, the city fire department: grew from 23 personnel to 39; opened a second fire station uptown; received significant classificiation upgrades from the Insurance Services Office; was awarded more than $1.3 million in grants; began serving as the Northwest Montana Regional Hazardous Materials team; purchased a second ladder truck; tripled the number of fire prevention personnel and reduced response times.
But Brodehl’s last year has seen its fair share of friction with the firefighters’ union as well. An Oct. 16 dispute between the local firefighters union and city officials over whether union property could be stored at the downtown firehouse resulted in firefighters removing – in addition to union records – many of the amenities kept around the station. The Beacon reported two weeks later that the dispute was a symptom of problems that have plagued the department for several years that included low morale and distrust between line firefighters and senior officials within the department.
In April, the city brought in a consultant to help with contract negotiations between the city and the union. The consultant, Michael Conduff of the Texas-based Elim Group, specializes in government and management improvement. Conduff had already been hired to assist with a city council retreat, Patrick said, and city officials asked him to hold a few meetings with the fire department. The union recently agreed to a one-year extension to its current contract, which Patrick said should provide any newly-hired chief with some time to get oriented before beginning negotiations next year.
Patrick and Harball denied that disputes with the union had anything to do with Brodehl’s decision to retire.
“When everything was said and done it was Randy’s decision,” Harball said, acknowledging that there exists “a certain amount of friction between union and management in any fire department and this department is no different.”
“It’s fortunate, I think for everybody, that the resolution to all this is a happy one for everybody,” Harball said. “I don’t think there’s any hard feelings anywhere on any of it.”
According to the statement, Brodehl now looks forward to spending time with his wife, Joyce, their three children and grandsons.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.