What Is A Kelly Day? Explained by a Firefighter

If you’re a firefighter, or training to become one, then you’re going to hear about Kelly Days eventually.

Maybe you don’t want to look too ‘green’ by asking a fellow firefighter, but if you have no idea what a Kelly Day is, I’ll help you out.

A Kelly Day is a day off as part of your firefighting shift. It’s a day where you would typically work and counts as additional time off besides the scheduled time off that a firefighter receives. The day is paid. 

Don’t worry, I’ll fill you in on everything you need to know about Kelly Days, so you can walk into your next firefighting shift feeling a lot more knowledgeable.

What Is a Kelly Day and Why Is It Called That?

It’s no secret that firefighters work in shifts. Most fire departments follow the shift schedule where a firefighter works for 24 hours on, then 48 hours off, then another 24 hours on, and so on.

Although it’s considered outdated these days, some fire departments still follow the old-school schedule where a firefighter works for 12 or 14 hours up to four days in a row, then receives time off.

That schedule doesn’t go on ad infinitum thanks to Kelly Days.

With a Kelly Day, you work a certain number of shifts, such as nine shifts. Then, at the end of the ninth shift, you get a paid day off. This day is in addition to the 48 consecutive hours you’d receive off as part of your 24-hour shifts. 

Here’s what a Kelly Day schedule might look like. A firefighter works a cyclical nine-day schedule. The first day is a 24-hour shift, then 24 hours off (as an example). Then it’d be 24 hours, then off, then one more 24-hour shift.

Then the firefighter would be awarded four days off. 

The goal of a Kelly Day is to reduce the amount of time that a firefighter works and in turn reduce the amount of overtime a city would be required to pay.

Even though a firefighter might not be active all 24 hours of their shift, the work they do when they are active is incredibly strenuous. As someone who is training to become a firefighter or who works as one already, you know the nature of the job well. 

Having more time off is always good for firefighters, as it gives them a chance to catch their breath, recharge, and spend time with family.

Plus, if you read our recent article about firefighter vacation days, you’ll recall that working too long without a vacation can increase your blood pressure and stress levels while reducing your immunity. 

The Origin of the Kelly Day Name

You have to know. Why is a Kelly Day called that?

Well, no one is 100 percent sure, but the lore goes that a firefighter named Kelly who worked at the Chicago Fire Department came up with the concept of the additional day off, and so they’ve been called Kelly Days ever since. 

How Many Kelly Days Does a Firefighter Get Per Year?

A Kelly Day is something for a firefighter to look forward to, as it’s extra time off, and paid time off at that. 

You could even build your vacation time around the inclusion of a Kelly Day, but that will require you to know how many of these built-in days you get per year.

The standard number of Kelly Days that you could come to expect is four days per year. That’s about one Kelly Day every three months if you’re working 53 hours per week or more.

I did an entire video on the FirefighterNOW YouTube channel explaining firefighter schedules and working hours. You can watch it here:

It’s not a lot of time off, per se, but keep in mind that that’s not the only time off that a firefighter receives.

Remember, you get at least 48 hours off after working a 24-hour shift. Plus, you’ll accrue vacation time as you work as well as sick time and/or personal time as well. The Kelly Day is just an added bonus. 

The number of Kelly Days built into a firefighter’s schedule may vary depending on your fire department’s schedule. 

There’s another factor at play when it comes to who gets Kelly Days too, and that’s seniority.

Now, this is not necessarily the case in every fire department, but many departments give their senior firefighters access to Kelly Days first or perhaps more Kelly Day than younger firefighters. 

Can a Firefighter “Bank” Kelly Days?

Although there aren’t many of them per year, sometimes when a firefighter receives a Kelly Day, it’s not at the most opportune time. 

When your Kelly Day comes up, can you bank it for another time, or do you have to use it right away?

The United States Department of Labor or DOL as well as the Fair Labor Standards Act or FLSA don’t mention banking Kelly Days specifically. 

Thus, it’s up to the individual fire department whether you have to use your Kelly Days as they come up or if you can save them for that annual holiday vacation.

Either way, a Kelly Day is still doing its job. Outside of reducing the stress of a firefighter’s schedule, the other point of a Kelly Day is to lessen instances of overtime, which can be expensive for a fire department.

Can a Firefighter Be Called into Work on a Kelly Day?

You’re really looking forward to your upcoming Kelly Day. You’ve been working very hard lately, and the extra time off will be quite nice.

As a firefighter, you’ve probably been called in on your days off before. Is that something you have to worry about on your Kelly Day?

More than likely, no, but you can never say never. 

Your fire department doesn’t want you and your fellow firefighters working too much overtime, which is why you’re awarded the Kelly Day. If you were then asked to turn around and come into work, that would defeat the purpose, right?

That said, in very severe fire events when the fire department was short-staffed and couldn’t get any volunteers or neighboring fire departments to help, then yes, you might be called in. A scenario like that seems very unlikely though.

Although no one’s quite sure why they’re called what they are, Kelly Days are built-in additional paid days off for firefighters to reduce overtime and provide a much-needed break. You may have a Kelly Day coming up soon, so check your schedule!