#1
Old 12-25-2013, 11:33 PM
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firemen hours of work

After watching 'chicago fire', I wonder what sort of shift schedule these folks actually have. Do they work 24 straight hours, every other day? Four or five twelve hour shifts, each week? Do they get paid for all hours at the station? Overtime?

How about the chief? Does he live at the house? Sleep there regularly? Is he supposed to be out with his men on any call?

any firemen here to give me and us the 'straight dope' on being a fire fighter?
#2
Old 12-26-2013, 02:17 AM
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Another more knowledgeable Doper should be along shortly, but the quick and dirty answer is yes, firemen typically work 24-hour shifts. (Their schedule is usually a combination of 24 on/48 off or 48 on/72 off.) Ever watch Emergency!, the 70's paramedic show? It's basically exactly like that.

Regarding salary, I have no idea.
#3
Old 12-26-2013, 03:19 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by crucible View Post
Overtime?
Overtime can be a substantial part of a firefighter's pay. I just read this story a few days ago; a fire chief (who isn't eligible for overtime in his current job) is going to take a demotion so he can start getting overtime. Even though his base pay will go down, he stands to make tens of thousands of dollars more each year.
#4
Old 12-26-2013, 04:01 AM
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There's a variety of schedules out there, mostly based on 24-hour shifts. Around here in Colorado, Kelly shifts are pretty popular- 24 on, 24 off, 24 on, 24 off, 24 on, 4 days off. There's also a "Kelly Day" where you get an extra day off at a regular interval.

48-hour shifts are becoming more popular, with repeating 48-on, 96-off schedules.
#5
Old 12-26-2013, 04:24 AM
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What does a 24-hour or 48-hour shift actually entail? I assume there's only so many hours out of the day that are taken up actually dealing with emergencies, performing automotive maintenance, etc., and that the firefighter is not actually expected to remain awake, fully alert, and engaged in meaningful work for the entire period. Is it basically that the firefighter is essentially living in the fire station and "on call" for the duration of the shift, and that he's at liberty to eat or sleep or what have you when urgent duty fails to present itself?
#6
Old 12-26-2013, 07:05 AM
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In Washington, DC firefighters work a 24-72 schedule, on for 24, off for 72.
A 24 hour shift entails time for sleeping and eating. Using there is physical training and technical training during the day. If at any time, there is a call, the firefighters must respond.

Last edited by madmonk28; 12-26-2013 at 07:08 AM.
#7
Old 12-26-2013, 07:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Smapti View Post
What does a 24-hour or 48-hour shift actually entail? I assume there's only so many hours out of the day that are taken up actually dealing with emergencies, performing automotive maintenance, etc., and that the firefighter is not actually expected to remain awake, fully alert, and engaged in meaningful work for the entire period. Is it basically that the firefighter is essentially living in the fire station and "on call" for the duration of the shift, and that he's at liberty to eat or sleep or what have you when urgent duty fails to present itself?
The firefighters in my city are 2 days on 3 days off. During your 2 days on you basically go about normal living but at the station. They eat, sleep, play games, workout (they all seem to get pretty ripped after about 2 years), run errands (usually with the ambulance). They seem to be free to do what they need/want to do as long as the can get their gear on and get to a call within a reasonable amount of time. Of course, this is when you're not busy doing work related things. Training, cleaning the truck, community projects etc.

Also because they have so much time between shifts, a lot of them tend to have their own side businesses. I know a few that do home remodeling or landscaping since they have so much free time (especially if they're single).

Last edited by Joey P; 12-26-2013 at 07:37 AM.
#8
Old 12-26-2013, 08:32 AM
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There are two general schedule types, a "42-hour" and a "56-hour." Firefighters usually work a rotating schedule, mostly on an 8 week cycle (although I've heard of others, eight is by and far the most popular). The 42 and 56 are the average number of hours worked per week when examined over the 8-week rotation.

The reason there are 42's and 56's come from the number of hours in a week - 168. If you have four groups/shifts working, you work 42's (168/4 = 42). If you have three groups/shifts working, you work 56's (168/3 = 56). There are some variations when it comes to paying individual firefighters for hours worked, but that's how the shifts are derived.

My shifts are 1-1-1-5; one 24 hour shift, 24 hours off, a 24 hour shift, 5 days off. I work from 7am until 7am the following day. That is the most common one I've seen in the northeastern US, almost all of the northeast work 42 hour shifts, 56's are rare. There are some variations of the 42, such as 1 on, 2 off, 1 on, 4 off or 1 on, 3 off. This week I work Wednesday and Friday. Next week I work Thursday and Saturday. The following week I work Friday and Sunday, repeat ad nauseam.

About half of the departments that work the 42's do 24 hour shifts, the others do what are referred to as 10's and 14's: two 10-hour days, two 14 hour nights, four days off (or a variation of). My department (an oddball) worked 8's and 16's until 2001, when we changed to 24's. I've never heard of anyone else with 8's and 16's.

Departments that work 56's are usually 1 on, 2 off. I have heard of departments moving to 2 on, 4 off; but I don't know how common that is becoming.

There are also departments (usually military) that work 84 hour shifts, one day on, one day off. I don't know how their overtime situation works, as FLSA only requires overtime in excess of 56 hours (averaged) per week. Firefighters get their own special section of FLSA, as Congress recognized our wacky work arrangements. State laws and collective bargaining agreements may spell out different overtime rules. In my department, we receive overtime for any hours worked outside of your normal shift hours. I don't know how others do it.

As for what goes on during a "typical" day? Come in before 7am. Get the previous day's news and happenings from the off-going shift (what happened yesterday, latest gossip, status of the apparatus and building, construction or closures, new memos, union news, etc). Finish coffee while we all watch the morning news. Around 8, start checking the trucks. Radio test at 8:30. House duties until they're done. Training of some sort around 10 until just before noon. Lunch. More training in the afternoon, or time to tend to your own projects/assignments (inspections). Chiefs go home between 5 and 5:30. Supper around 6-7 or so. A little tv after supper, and we can head to bed after 9:30. Up by 6am, shift change at 7am.

Oh, and if there are any incidents during anything that happens in the above list, you stop what you are doing and respond. We average three to five calls per day. Not busy by any stretch, but its enough.

Managers and bean counters want 24 hours of "work" to be completed during a shift. Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that. I can't, in good conscience, beat my guys up for 22 hours and hope I don't have an incident in the 23rd hour. I need my guys in good condition, which means allowing them to rest (and get paid). There is a story in my department, dating back to the early 1980s, of our state's administration ordering the firefighters to take an unpaid lunch from 12 to 12:30. An incident occurred two days later, and the fire department didn't respond - they were on their unpaid lunch break and not "at work." That afternoon, the order was rescinded. Old fashioned Taylor/Ford/Weber ideas of "work" do not jive with the fire service. In our modern world, the newfound dislike of public employees has put us squarely in the crosshairs of up-and-coming political actors who want to reform the "lazy firemen." Yes, it can be a very easy job sometimes. It can also be an excruciatingly difficult job at other times, it all averages out in the end.

At least we're not working the 15 days on, 1 day off schedule that was popular until the end of World War 1.

Regarding firefighters and side jobs. On average, it takes someone 7 years to become a career firefighter, between the certifications needed to apply, the testing process, and waiting for an opening. In those seven years, that person needs to feed themselves somehow, so most take up a trade of some type. I was a machinist before I was a firefighter. We have plumbers, electricians, carpenters, mechanics, commercial drivers, etc, etc, who become firefighters. We work most of hour hours all at once, leaving us with time off. If you have a properly staffed fire department, there shouldn't be any overtime. So we give you a job where you (should) have no prospect of additional income, but you are trained with a usable and potentially valuable skill. Thus, we have side jobs to fill the hours. It's when the side job takes preference over your firefighting job that problems arise.

Last edited by KCB615; 12-26-2013 at 08:37 AM.
#9
Old 12-26-2013, 08:50 AM
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Holy crap, I was a firefighter for two years about 40 years ago, and now I can't remember what the schedule was. Definitely 24 hour shifts, no more and no less, but I don't remember how they were mixed in with the off days.

Didn't make much, around $11K as I recall, in a town of about 30K. During the day, we trained and practiced, during the evening we could watch TV or shoot hoops or read, during the night we slept. All subject to responding to alarms, of course.

I reassessed my position when I began coughing up black phlegm. Went back to school, and haven't been in that town since.
#10
Old 12-26-2013, 08:56 AM
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lots of excellent responses. Thanks.

Can anyone apply the above to the Chicago Fire situation? Is it clear what sort of schedule they are following? do they have a bunk room and does everyone sleep at once? etc.

I am a friend of those in public service jobs. If people are actually doing the job for which they are paid (no featherbedding) no problem. I think the fireman situation is a great example of a job that is necessary, but which also provides a chance for an entrepreneur to go places.
#11
Old 12-26-2013, 10:20 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joey P View Post
...
Also because they have so much time between shifts, a lot of them tend to have their own side businesses. I know a few that do home remodeling or landscaping since they have so much free time (especially if they're single).
Among the building trades firemen are notorious for their remodelling projects. Everybody thinks they are a carpenter. I get to fix their crap. An electrician friend was lamenting to me about nightmare basement renos by firemen he is always dealing with. It amazes me that firemen, of all people would mess with electrical.
#12
Old 12-26-2013, 11:01 AM
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Originally Posted by FluffyBob View Post
Among the building trades firemen are notorious for their remodelling projects. Everybody thinks they are a carpenter. I get to fix their crap. An electrician friend was lamenting to me about nightmare basement renos by firemen he is always dealing with. It amazes me that firemen, of all people would mess with electrical.
I don't know if they do their own electrical, but I know three firefighters who do remodeling. Two of them put second stories on their own houses, more or less by themselves. The additions look good/professional and I know (at least for one) it's up to code since I know he won't even so much as put up a fence without a permit.
#13
Old 12-26-2013, 02:05 PM
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My husband is a fire fighter and works the following shift in Calgary: 12 hour day on, 12 off, 12 on, 24 off, 14 hour night on, 10 off, 14 on, four days off. It's an odd shift and they're trying to go to 24's, but the department is pushing back for some reason.

There are four city crews - A, B, C, and D - and they work on a rotation.

He doesn't make a lot of overtime unless he gets a call right at shift change (and gets a half hour or so of overtime) or if he's called in for a shift because someone else called off.

Fire fighters here are NOT EMT's as well like many other cities, they are pure FF's. They have four specialties here: high angle, HAZMAT, airport and aquatic. Only a small percentage of the FF's are a specialty, and you have to apply to join. My husband is an aquatic specialist (so he's also a diver and does water rescue in the city when needed).

How busy a FF is depends on where the hall is. My husband is downtown, so is constantly running to car accidents and catalogue alarms (false alarms usually), probably averaging a call every hour and a half or so. When he was in a residential hall, they'd have five or six calls on a busy day, if that.

The Captain does not 'live' at the hall, he is part of the crew and is in and out on the same schedule as the rest of the guys.
#14
Old 12-26-2013, 02:08 PM
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On the topic of side jobs, lots of the guys have them here as well, and I agree, it's mostly construction or remodelling type work. I think possibly because it's so flexible and can be done whenever?

Mine doesn't work a side job (unless he's helping a buddy out - we don't need the money really) because I work and we're comfortable. He spends his time off in the mountains or working on our own house. It'll be a nice schedule for if/when we have kids, and it's great for planning vacations, because he just needs to take four days off to have 12 days for vacation (includes the four days before and after his four day shift).
#15
Old 12-26-2013, 02:11 PM
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Originally Posted by crucible View Post
lots of excellent responses. Thanks.

Is it clear what sort of schedule they are following? do they have a bunk room and does everyone sleep at once? etc.
They have a specific schedule on a daily basis and most Captains (and Senior Men) are good about scheduling daily training if there is time. They do have dorm rooms and they all sleep at the same time (though, like some guys, some will fall asleep in the TV room in the chair, etc.). They all have their own sheets, pillows and blankets too.
#16
Old 12-26-2013, 02:13 PM
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Many depts use the Kelly system, or a modified version.
My husband works one one two off for three cycles, then gets 5 days off. Fridays are his Kelly days, meaning he's off every Friday. It works out to every third cycle.
#17
Old 12-26-2013, 08:23 PM
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They do have dorm rooms and they all sleep at the same time (though, like some guys, some will fall asleep in the TV room in the chair, etc.).
I find this a bit surprising-- I'd have expected that there'd be one or two awake at all times, to monitor the communications and possibly lookout, and sound the alarm to wake the others if needed. If I see a fire at 3 AM and call it in, how does the sequence go? Does the 911 dispatcher sound the alarm at the fire station remotely?
#18
Old 12-26-2013, 10:03 PM
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
I find this a bit surprising-- I'd have expected that there'd be one or two awake at all times, to monitor the communications and possibly lookout, and sound the alarm to wake the others if needed. If I see a fire at 3 AM and call it in, how does the sequence go? Does the 911 dispatcher sound the alarm at the fire station remotely?
Yes, that's exactly how it works. The tones are set off by dispatch, and you can hear them throughout the hall. After the tones go, the dispatcher comes on and gives the location of the call.

Once the guys are in the truck, the Captain uses the computer to pull up the details and direct the driver to the location.

Something interesting - if the tones go off while they are cooking dinner, the stoves are automatically shut off. When they return, they have to hit a button to allow them to turn everything back on.
#19
Old 12-26-2013, 10:51 PM
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Originally Posted by EmAnJ View Post
Yes, that's exactly how it works. The tones are set off by dispatch, and you can hear them throughout the hall. After the tones go, the dispatcher comes on and gives the location of the call.7Once the guys are in the truck, the Captain uses the computer to pull up the details and direct the driver to the location.
I've been in the Fire Dept many times when tones sounded, and sometimes the apparatus rolled, sometimes it didn't. Are tones standardized? If so, what are they and what do they typically mean?

Tripler
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#20
Old 12-26-2013, 10:54 PM
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Originally Posted by Tripler View Post
I've been in the Fire Dept many times when tones sounded, and sometimes the apparatus rolled, sometimes it didn't. Are tones standardized? If so, what are they and what do they typically mean?

Tripler
My phone just rings. Thats it.
In my husband's department, the tones are the same no matter the call, but the dispatcher that advises what the call is after the tones will specify what type of call/apparatus (apparati?) is needed.

I'm sure this isn't standard across all fire departments.
#21
Old 12-26-2013, 11:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Smapti View Post
What does a 24-hour or 48-hour shift actually entail? I assume there's only so many hours out of the day that are taken up actually dealing with emergencies, performing automotive maintenance, etc., and that the firefighter is not actually expected to remain awake, fully alert, and engaged in meaningful work for the entire period. Is it basically that the firefighter is essentially living in the fire station and "on call" for the duration of the shift, and that he's at liberty to eat or sleep or what have you when urgent duty fails to present itself?
Yes, exactly like medical personnel on night duty (those also often have 24h shifts). And in both cases if there is a big ongoing emergency shifts may get shortened. Those long shifts are defined under the assumption that people will not need to remain awake and alert consinuously.

Last edited by Nava; 12-26-2013 at 11:43 PM.
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