Why Do Firefighters Work 24 Hour Shifts?

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Have you ever wondered why firefighters spend an entire day and night at the fire station? It turns out that many firefighting departments follow a unique schedule called the “24-hour shift.” 

There’s several reasons why this is a common practice, and a few arguments why this should be updated. But for now, many Fire Departments follow the 24 Hour Shift, and below we’ll look at many of the reasons why. 

What is the most Common Schedule for a Firefighter?

The Most Common shift for a Career (or paid) Firefighters is the 24 on/ 48 off schedule, where a Firefighter works for 24 hours straight, before being off for 48 hours. The Second most Common Schedule would be a 48 hour on/96 hour off shift.

When working a 24 hour shift, Can Firefighters sleep on shift?

Yes, Firefighters generally have areas where they can sleep on a 24 hour shift, from bunk rooms to recliner chairs. Sleep isn’t guaranteed, as 911 calls may come through all night and keep them busy.

Here’s Several Reasons for Firefighters working 24 Hour Shifts 

To provide around-the-clock coverage

 Fire departments need to be able to respond to emergencies at any time of day or night, so it’s important that there are always firefighters on duty. A 24 hour shift ensures that there is always a crew ready to go, no matter what time it is.

To allow for Uninterrupted Training

 Firefighters need to be constantly training to stay up-to-date on the latest techniques and procedures. A 24 hour shift gives them the opportunity to train without having to worry about going home and coming back. 

Often times Firefighters will train at odd hours, like early in the morning, or in the evening, or even at night. They also might set up a training facility (or rent one) where they can do circuits throughout the day, and factor in things like weather, visibility and fatigue. Other things like Knot Work, Continuing Education Credits through classes or online programs, or general Fire Talk can happen at all times of the day and night.

Firefighters learn all about Ventilation and Fire Suppression, plus helpful skills like Search and Rescue, House and Vehicle Extractions, and Scene Management (to name a few) as part of their career. If you are looking to Thank a Firefighter, here’s 10 suggested ways to Thank First Responders.

fire suppression and mine victim assistance

To Reduce Fatigue

 Firefighters often work long hours, and a 24 hour shift allows them to get a full night’s sleep (on their day off, not at the station) before their next shift. This helps to reduce fatigue and improve their performance.

To Save Money

A 24 hour shift requires fewer firefighters than a traditional 8-hour shift. This can save the Fire Department money on salaries and benefits, which is why it can be hard to even discuss changing a 24 hour shift for a different schedule. This change is especially hard on smaller departments who are already working with a limited budget. (Also why you will see most Stations hire Firefighters with EMT certs)

What does a Typical Month look like for a Firefighter working 24 hour shifts. 

Most Firefighters working a 24 hour shift, will typically have 48 hours off. So in a normal month, a Firefighter would work about ten 24 hour shifts. 

Typically, there are three ‘groups’ who rotate around one another, A Shift, B Shift, and C Shift, allowing for 24 on/48 off. 

If a Firefighter picks up 24 hours of overtime, then they would work that before or after their 24 hour shift, making it a 48 hour shift, with 24 hours off. 

Some locations have a Kelly (or Kelley) Day, where they get one 24 hour shift off, so instead of consistent 24 on/48 off, they would have one week that was 24 on/ 120 off. These Kelly days are typically once a month, or every three weeks, depending on the department. 

Challenges with the 24 Hour Shift Schedule for Firefighters 

Of course, there are also some challenges associated with working 24 hour shifts. These include:

  • Fatigue. Even though firefighters get a full night’s sleep before their next shift, they can still experience fatigue. This can make it difficult to focus and react quickly in an emergency.
  • Family life. Working 24 hour shifts can make it difficult to maintain a healthy family life. Firefighters may miss important events, such as birthdays and school plays.
  • Social life. Working 24 hour shifts can also make it difficult to maintain a social life. Firefighters may not have much time to spend with friends and family outside of work.

Overall, there are both pros and cons to working 24 hour shifts. However, for many firefighters, the benefits outweigh the challenges. They appreciate the opportunity to provide around-the-clock coverage, train uninterrupted, and save money for the Fire Department. It also allows them to work other shifts, and many Firefighters moonlight as Entrepreneurs or as EMS.

Alternative Schedules to the 24 hour Firefighter Shift 

While the 24 hour Shift is the most common among Career Firefighters, there’s several other schedule variations that may be found at the local station!

The 48 hour Shift is the next most common, and popular for good reason! The 48/96 hour shift is 48 on shift, and then 96 hours off, for a total of 4 consecutive days off and 2 consecutive days on.

Another Shift option gaining popularity is 10/12 hours on and 12/24 hours off. This is similar to other First Responders or Medical Professionals, as some data shows that less time at work leads to less injuries and accidents.

What Firefighters do in a 24 hour Shift 

Here are some additional details about 24 hour firefighter shifts:

  • Typical schedule: Firefighters typically work 24 hours on, followed by 48 hours off. This means that they work one shift, then have two days off.
  • Duties: During their shift, firefighters are responsible for a variety of tasks, including:
    • Responding to emergencies
    • Conducting fire inspections
    • Maintaining fire equipment
    • Training
    • Community outreach
  • Training: Firefighters are required to receive extensive training, both in the classroom and on the job. This training covers a wide range of topics, including:
    • Firefighting techniques
    • Emergency medical services
    • Hazmat response
    • Public relations
  • Benefits: In addition to the benefits mentioned above, firefighters also enjoy a number of other benefits, such as:
    • Competitive salaries
    • Excellent benefits package
    • Retirement plan
    • Strong sense of community

If you’re interested in becoming a firefighter, be sure to research the different fire departments in your area to find out what their shift schedules are like. You should also consider the Pros and Cons of working 24 hour shifts before making a decision.

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