Like all careers, Firefighters legally get days off depending on how their department is structured and the contracts they’ve signed. That’s the easy part.
The hard part is understanding how the days off/hourly system works, the requirements for emergencies, and how days off work for Firefighters in unique situations.
Sure, at first glance this may seem like an odd question, because everyone in the career knows that overtime and disasters can have firefighters on call at all times. Once major disasters happen firefighters can be called to work at any time.
Understanding the Basics about how Time Off works for Firefighters
First let’s talk about how shifts work in a fire department. It depends on where the person works but for a lot it’s 24 hours on shift and 48 hours off shift. Not everywhere is like this but most it’s X amount of days on with Y amount of days off.
Then you have mandatory overtime which is usually some sort of rotating list to fill a position when someone calls out sick or is on vacation. So firefighters pretty much know their work schedule for the entire year if you don’t count mandatory overtime.
What kind of training does a firefighter do?
Now what about this always on call nonsense? Well most departments or even states will have some sort of rule that you can be mandated at any given time.
This is usually reserved for natural disasters, major mass casualty incidents or something of the likeness. This isn’t uncommon in places like Florida, with significant hurricanes, for firefighters to have to work multiple days in a row.
The thought process is operational readiness if the situation is or becomes catastrophic whether that be property damage, life safety or search and rescue. A Lot of times this is where FEMA comes in.
How do Firefighters get time off in unique situations.
Time off through Shift swaps
Interestingly enough most departments allow shift swaps. This is a shift for a shift swap, between two same ranking firefighters, that does not affect either person’s pay.
This seems to be unique to the fire industry. The downside is you usually end working two days in a row without overtime pay. The upside is you secure time off without dipping into vacation time.
Time off through Kelly days
This is a complicated one. Some departments use it and some don’t and it can be paid or unpaid. The idea behind is to reduce the amount of firefighters have to work and at the same time saving the city or county money.
While I have not experienced Kelly days in my career my understanding is it evens the overtime hours since it’s a longer work cycle for firefighters.
Time off through Education time
This isn’t really time off. It’s more less getting paid when the firefighter is not at work because the firefighter is in some sort job related class.
Examples would be tech classes like VMR, rope rescue or confined space. Once again not every department allows education time but most will at least pay for the class.
Other ways Firefighters get time off
Then you have your typical sick time that’s accrued just like vacation time. Another time off is state by state dependent and it’s FMLA. The family medical leave act is for instances such as a child being born or care for the sick.
It usually uses you vacation and sick time as well as unpaid time and in theory holds the job for the firefighter.
So it’s not so black and white. Yes firefighters get time off but with stipulations.
When firefighters are mandated during time of natural disasters it can be done at any given time no matter what the circumstances. So the burden of being always on call is still somewhat real for the average firefighter.