Why do Firefighters work 24 Hour Shifts?

24-hour shifts allow the firefighters to pursue their other interests and allows them to spend more time with their families, but also comes with some downsides

Fire stations are a central part of public service. Hence they must provide uninterrupted, top-class service 24 hours a day.

As of now about two-thirds of the fire stations in the United States use the 24-hour shift or follow some form of that version.

why do firefighters work 24 hour shifts

In this post, we take a closer look on

  • The fundamental aspects of the 24-hour shifts
  • The reasons behind its popularity
  • A sharp contrast between its pros and cons
  • The simple strategy to deal with its downsides

So let’s dive right in.

Why are Firefighter Shifts 24 hours?

Firefighter shifts can vary depending on the fire department and its location. However, the majority of the fire department in the USA, abide by some form of the 24-hour shift as it’s like a win-win situation, both for the fire department and the firefighters.

Running 24-hour shifts is financially favorable for the departments and provides the firefighter way more free time than they would get on any other job related to public service.

  • This is because by working 2 to 3 shifts within a span of 6 to 7 days, the firefighters are more or less covering their needed quota of duty hours for the week.

This means they will be completely free for the other 4 to 5 days.

On the other hand, departments will have to pay a lot more for the overtime if the firefighters working on 8 hours or 10-hour shift basis, gets a call at the end of their shift. Also, there will be the need of having 2 to 3 shifts within the same day. So the chances of extra payment owing to overtime work are quite high in this model.

But by keeping the 24-hour shifts, the department is nullifying the chances of paying overtime for many shifts in a single day.

Read Also: Do Firefighters Live at the Firestation?

3 Pros of working 24 Hour Shifts

1. For Spending Quality Time with the family

Working 2 shifts a week (sometimes 3) will allow the firefighters to have 4 to 5 days off which means they can spend this time chilling with their family.

This means more time for fun outings and to make some happy memories on the side.

2. To Recharge Mentally and Physically

Anyone working on a 9 to 5 job will have only 2 days off whereas in this profession you will get to enjoy weekends twice in a single week.

Depending on how busy your department is, you can have sleep deprivation during your shifts, but you can try to make up for that on these off days.

The 24-hour shifts allow you to have many days of leave which is enough in most cases to rejuvenate your health and mind before the next shift.

3. Time for Generating Side Income

In some cases, a 24-hour shift is followed by a gap of 48 hours, and the next 24-hour shift is followed by a gap of 48 to 72 hours.

This gap of many days between the shifts allows firefighters the option to run their own business or to do other part-time jobs on the side.

Read Also: Can Firefighters Have Long Hair?

2 Downsides of the 24 Hour Shift

1. The Chances of Error and misjudgment are Higher

Humans are not nocturnal animals. Throughout the course of evolution, we have always stayed up during the day and gone to sleep right after the arrival of darkness.

In short, our body is biologically equipped to keep up with 17 to 15 hours of activity and 7 to 9 hours of absolute rest. 24-hour shifts go against this logic and lack of sleep can impact your judgment. This is an extremely crucial matter especially for this line of work where a small error can lead to extreme outcomes.

2. Extreme Sleep Deprivation for Years can Take its Toll

If you are a part of one of the busiest fire stations, you will find it hard to rest between calls. At best you can rest for an hour or so if luck permits and soon again may need to hit the road.

You can sure make up for this lack of sleep, on your off days, but in the longer run, it can take its toll on the body, especially as you get older.

Studies have shown that interruption of the normal sleep cycle or poorer quality of sleep is related to many severe health issues including cardiac arrests, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, low immunity, etc.

How to deal with the downsides of the 24-hour shifts as a firefighter

There is only one solution to this, Get as much rest as possible between the calls. This is easier said than done especially if your fire station gets plenty of calls every day.

But in the majority of the fire stations, finding time to get a short 20-minute nap or a 2-hour nap between calls is not that hard.

Studies have shown that shorter naps can make you instantly feel energized and fresh. This will not only help in minimizing the chances of judgmental errors but will help in minimizing your sleep deprivation.

So when you have the time, in the evening and the night, instead of watching TV or doing other stuff, go take a short nap. Your body will thank you for that.

Pros vs Cons of 24-hour Firefighter Shifts

Pros of 24 Hour Shifts Cons of 24 Hour Shifts
Increases the efficiency of the department in terms of firefighter availability and call volume. Firefighters working in busier fire stations can have serious issues related to sleep deprivation in the longer run.
Decrease in Sick Leaves as the firefighters are getting enough time to boost themselves up between shifts. Increases the probability of on-job injuries and mistakes owing to excessive fatigue.
More time to spend quality time with the family or to do other side hustles. Deficiency in focus and alertness due to tiredness can lead to serious blunders.
Lesser traveling is needed for work. This is important if the firefighters live far away from the fire station. The sudden absence of a firefighter can have a huge impact as the particular spot of that firefighter will be empty for 24 hours at least. This can impart extra costs on the fire station to find quick replacements.
Helps in reaching the weekly quota of working hours in just two to three shifts. If many calls occur during the night, the break days will be spent on compensating for the sleep you missed.

FAQ

How many 24 hour shifts do Firefighters work?

This depends upon the fire station.

Some fire departments have 24/48 or 24/72 schedule patterns which means a 24-hour shift is followed by a 48 hour or 72-hour gap respectively. So this can call for two to three 24 hour shifts a week.

Many fire stations follow the California Swing Shift as per which firefighters will have to do 24-hours shifts every alternate day for 5 days and then after the shift on the 5th day, they will get a break of 4 days.

Can firefighters sleep on shift?

Whether the Firefighters can sleep on their shifts or not depends on the busyness of their fire stations.

On some nights they can get many hours of sleep without any issue while on others they may hardly find any time to sleep. But in most cases, they commonly get the time to grab a quick nap of an hour or two between the calls.

Conclusion

24-hour shifts are pretty common in many countries including the United States where the majority of the fire stations abide by some variations of the 24-hour shift.

It has plenty of benefits which will allow you to have more free time every week to spend time with your family and to do a part-time job on the side. This is one of the prominent reasons why the 24-hour shifts are pretty popular among the firefighters.

But it also has its fair share of downsides including some very serious ones. Sleep deprivation, extreme fatigue are some of the dire side effects of the 24-hour shift that in time can affect the health.

Even though getting proper sleep while being on duty won’t be possible on many occasions, most firefighters can find a little bit of time between calls to catch a quick nap. The 24-hour shift will be in most cases, followed by a gap of 2 to 3 days, where they can easily compensate for the lost sleep.