I have a question. Why is it that most firefighter shifts start around 7:00 am? Why are firefighters forced to deal with rush hour traffic and add to the rush hour mess? After all we work a 24 hour shift, why couldn’t we begin our day at say 10:00am or 11:00am?
I have a theory, not really a theory a fact actually. It’s because of the demands of staff, of office workers and chiefs that now ride a desk instead of Big Red. These “support” people that work on a Monday through Friday 8-5 schedule, they set the pace for an entire department. Because it’s convenient for them, always has been and always will be.
My former department has somewhere around 450 line firefighters and some 20-30 staff personnel. So why is it that so few dictate the work schedule of the many? The simple answer is because it is more convenient to them and in their minds, whether conscious of this or not, they are more important. After all they are the grease that lubricates the wheels of the department.
Without them the whole organization would collapse, no fires would be put out, no lives would be saved, no emails would be sent out, communication would grind to a halt, and there would be chaos, bedlam.
Like Walter Peck aka “Chief Dickless” they believe their own importance. Of course it is absurd that things would fall apart, fires would be put out, lives would be saved, and we would still perform all of our duties because the line, dispatch, and our customers would still be in place 24 hours a day.
I’m not saying support staff are unimportant, what I am saying is that the reporting time of line firefighters shouldn’t be dictated by the few. Why are we held to this arbitrary start time? Because it makes their lives easier, they can have meetings on their terms, set training when it is convenient for them, have training after their lunch, not after we have had lunch.
Since so few staff have ever been on the line they have no true understanding of what our lives are like and the few that do, the ones that were real firefighters in the distant past have mutated in to a new highbred species of firefighter that is a crossbreed with a politician and a firefighter, a “Firetician” and fireticians work on the same schedule as their bosses 8-5.
So what’s the big deal if we work around their schedule? After all we will be at work for 24 hours, so who cares where we start our day? Good question how would changing our reporting time make any difference in our day?
Let me make some observations as a retired FF and single father. I have three small children and their day when in school begins at 7:30, that didn’t leave me enough travel time to get them to school and me to work. Someone usually a grandparent had to get up early and drive to my home so I could get to work on time and then they could take the kids to school. Big deal right?
Well, yeah it is a big deal especially when you live in a place like Colorado where winter can be a bitch. Just get a standby to cover for you some say and I did from time to time but you can wear out your welcome with the other crews, and no one wants to do that.
But you knew going in to the profession that was part of the deal you don’t get to complain after the fact. Why Not? We on the line are always being asked to adjust to the changes in the fire service. We don’t do it that way anymore we hear, we have a new tactic/strategy, CPR has changed again, use master streams now, and the list could go on ad infinitum.
So why couldn’t staff continue on their 8-5 routine and a modification be made to our start time? Once again it would only be the line changing like always. What would be the benefits of making this change other than allowing single parents to get their kids to school on time.
For one, a change like this would reduce rush hour traffic and exhaust emissions over all. Eight to fivers might need to sit in rush hour traffic to keep their schedule, but why should we? Why not reduce traffic congestion by allowing us a start time of nine or ten? What would be the harm?
All morning routines at the fire house would stay the same. I know a lot of guys have off duty jobs that start at eight and they would still be able make arrangements for coverage with another FF.
We live with enough stress just being a FF, a later start time would reduce that stress and every little bit of stress reduction can extend our lives. The fear of getting stuck in a morning traffic jam would be greatly reduced, bad weather conditions tend to improve with sun light and road conditions improve right along with it.
I was introduced to the notion of a paradigm shift by the fire service and asked to look for areas where we could improve performance even in small ways. Well here is a paradigm shift that might improve service, why not at least give it a try in a few departments? We love to do studies or have studies done on us so put a study on it.
If you agree and feel like suggesting this to the powers that be, remember don’t send your email before 8am after 5 or on a weekend as it won’t be seen until it is convenient for them.