8 Hour FD Shifts

An effort by Plattsburgh, NY, to move from 24-hour fire shifts to 8 hours is being met with resistance, despite the numerous benefits for the city. Read about the pros and cons, as well as research on other attempts at similar efforts.

What Happened?

Plattsburgh, NY, officials are calling for a restructuring of the Fire Department in order to quell growing budget problems. Major proposals include doing away with 24-hour shifts and raising the minimum staffing standards.

Why 8 Hours?

While the 24-hour shift has long been a part of firefighter culture, there is some debate over the effectiveness of the system. Benefits of the 24-hour shift include greater work-life balance for firefighters, the ability to work a second full-time job to supplement income and the option to live a sizeable distance away from one’s agency.

Moving to an 8-hour schedule would be a big change for firefighters, but could also bring along some benefits.

Savings: According to Plattsburgh’s officials, 24-hour shifts are not cost-effective: they result in thousands of dollars in overtime, which 8-hour shifts would eliminate. As previously reported on Gov1, when the Washington, DC, fire department proposed to move to 12-hour shifts, they projected a savings of $36 million annually.

Recall: 8-hour shifts would greatly reduce the number of firefighters living very far away from their stations. With more firefighters living closer to the cities they serve, it will be easier to recall staff in emergency situations.

Manning: Many fire departments operate under minimum manning clauses, which require a certain amount of workers to be on duty at any given time. Moving to 8-hour shifts would require fire departments to hire more staff to cover the greater number of shifts. In addition, 8-hour shifts would allow agencies to staff according to peak hours.

Safety: Experts believe that shorter shifts, which would allow for guaranteed rest periods, could be beneficial to public safety. Tired workers often make mistakes, and when it comes to saving lives, there’s little room for error. In a study conducted by the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, while the 24-hour shift system proved beneficial to firefighters’ sleep patterns, more mistakes occurred and response times were slower.

Union Response

In Plattsburgh, as well as in DC, one of the major issues in implementing 8-hour shifts has been opposition from union firefighters. Union members believe that eliminating the 24-hour shift would decrease morale, negatively impact family lives, raise commute costs, and eliminate the ability to work other jobs.

Next Steps

A study that may include an evaluation of 24-hour shifts is currently being conducted in Clark County, Nev., and should be finished within the year. The above-referenced study by the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs is available here, and a Minneapolis study can also currently be accessed. One report out of New Rochelle covers budget issues related to overnight staffing and other manning issues.

Experts often relate the issue of 24-hour shifts for firefighters to the long shifts that were once standard in the medical profession. Extensive research on the issue does exist for doctors.

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