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What does a Firefighter’s Schedule look like?

People interested in becoming a firefighter often ask what a typical firefighter’s schedule looks like. Though a full-time firefighter typically works 56 hours per week, their shifts are most likely broken into 24-hour shifts. Almost all fire departments operate on a 24-hour rotation with 10 shifts per month. Similar to other public safety industries, fire departments operate based on both their department’s needs and the needs of the community they serve.

Firefighter shift schedules 

Almost every fire department will have a rotation in motion around the clock, meaning firefighters are working 24-hour shifts. Though a 24-hour shift can be challenging due to fatigue issues, many emergency service workers work this shift length. Firefighters always need to be on duty to respond to emergencies in the community they protect.

Just like other public safety departments, administrative teams face challenges when creating a fire department’s schedule. Every member of the crew needs a detailed rotation schedule that fits with everyone else’s. Because of this, most large fire departments schedule three shifts that switch on and off workdays. These three shifts result in most firefighters working an average of 10 of these 24-hour shifts per month.

Though lengthy, these 24-hour shifts allow firefighters to handle all of the duties, checks and operations of that day. If your department is scheduling a three-shift schedule, the schedule may look something like this for the seven days of the week:

Three shifts (A, B,C):

Shift 1: A – B – C – A – B – C – A

Shift 2: B – C – A – B – C – A – B

With this schedule, firefighters won’t work the same shifts every week. Sometimes you get the weekend off, and other times you will have to work weekends and holidays. Most fire departments that deal with large incidents or operate in large cities will run a 24-hour shift.

Other shift patterns

Some fire departments will run 12-hour shift rotations, and in some cases, swing shifts. A swing shift rotation, otherwise known as the California swing shift, is similar to a 24-hour shift rotation, but there is one distinct difference.

The California swing shift has firefighters working 24 hours, every other day, for five days. After the fifth day, firefighters will be off-duty for 96 -hours, or four days. This type of shift allows firefighters to get a long enough break between shifts without being off for too long, and then they get four full days off to spend with their families and friends.

What’s a “Kelly Day”?

A Kelly Day is a designated day throughout your schedule that you would normally work, but instead have it off. Kelly Days are always paid and count as additional time off besides the scheduled time off that a firefighter receives. 

Kelly Days are typically scheduled into 24-48 shift schedules so departments can control their budgets and overtime pay. Because firefighters work a rotation with extended hours, schedulers place a Kelly Day so the schedule can continue in its rotation, but the department won’t be required to pay overtime. This system is named after 

What do firefighters do on shift?

The fire station requires upkeep and every firefighter is responsible for their set chores. Some of the daily chores can include:

  • Cleaning the station
  • Cooking
  • Checking all equipment
  • Cleaning the apparatus

Firefighters have to be physically fit in order to do their job, and some daily routines while on shift include participating in physical activity. Unless firefighters are responding to calls, afternoons can be filled with training, fitness activities, inspections and study time. A fire station works systematically and every person plays a role in ensuring the station is operating efficiently.

Multiple sets of clean firefighter gear ready to go in a fire station

Do firefighters sleep on shift?

This is dependent on a few factors. For starters, firefighters who work 12-hour shifts will not be sleeping on shift. However, for departments that run 24-hour shift schedules, there is usually an opportunity to sleep on shift if there are no emergencies or calls.

Sleeping on shift is dependent on both the fire station and the fire department. Not all departments allow their personnel to sleep while on shift. Sleep is also a relative term for firefighters, because at any given moment they may be interrupted to respond to emergency calls.  

How does scheduling software help fire departments?

Scheduling for fire departments is complex. Because of their long shifts and extended hours, if fire departments don’t schedule their firefighters properly, they run the risk of high department overtime costs.

In the case of The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, switching to InTime’s automated scheduling software reduced their overtime management time by 98%. Cal Fire was able to reduce the time spent on overtime management due to streamlined scheduling, efficient overtime management and better communication between units. 

Scheduling software enables fire departments to work efficiently and better engage staff between departments. Reach out to our product team for more information on how InTime’s scheduling software can help your fire department.

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