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Flathead Electric makes changes in Libby

by Canda HarbaughWestern News
| November 11, 2009 11:00 PM

Flathead Electric recently cut its staff in Libby, but emphasized that it will respond to emergencies in a manner no different from the past.

Stephanie Wallace, Flathead Electric’s human resources director, denied rumors that the first responder in an emergency will now have to travel from Kalispell.

“As far as outages are concerned, that’s the biggest clarification,” Wallace said. “Our level of service is not going down. We are not sending people from Kalispell.”

When electricity to a house must be shut off during a fire or when an outage occurs, the message goes to Flathead Electric’s dispatch center in Kalispell, Wallace said. The dispatcher then begins contacting a list of linemen in Libby, all of which have the same training and experience.

It would be a rare instance, she said, if a lineman had to respond from Kalispell.

The Flathead Electric office in Libby will consist of two office employees, a foreman and three linemen because two vacancies will not be filled and a part-time office employee will be laid off at the beginning of the year, according to Wallace.

The Libby office will continue to operate without a director since John Desch’s recent retirement. The crew will answer to the foreman, Wallace said, and one of the office employees will be promoted.

It’s a small staff for a district that covers many square miles, but Wallace says that the company has less work and that the Libby office is following a trend that has already begun in the Flathead Valley. Six linemen positions that opened in the Flathead Valley will not be filled, she said.

“By natural attrition we’re not replacing those positions,” she said. “We’re not justified to do that with the volume and growth the way it is.”

With two people still staffing the office, customers shouldn’t notice a change in level of service, Wallace said.

“Oftentimes if we have someone on vacation we close the office over lunch,” Wallace said. “Worst case scenario – that might happen more frequently.”

If, for some reason, both office employees are absent, the Kalispell office would send someone to temporarily fill in, she added.

If customer numbers go up, Wallace said, Flathead Electric would act accordingly.

“We looked at the lack of growth and what needs to be done,” Wallace said. “If volume changes, we will adapt to change.”