Firefighters switch to new work schedule

DOWNEY - Hoping to promote continuity among regional fire departments while increasing the efficiency of local firefighters, the Downey Fire Department will begin an 18-month trial of the "48/96" shift schedule this Wednesday which requires firefighters to work two consecutive 24-hour shifts followed by four consecutive days off.The change comes just two weeks after the City Council approved the trial as part of a larger benefits contract between the city and the union representing Downey's firefighters. For nearly 35 years, the fire department, which currently employs more than 60 firefighters, has used the "Kelly Schedule." The schedule requires firefighters to work one 24-hour shift, followed by 24 hours off, another 24-hour shift, followed by 24 hours off, and an additional 24-hour shift, followed by four days off duty. According to Assistant Fire Chief Chuck Seely, city firefighters would still work 56 hours per week under the 48/96 work schedule, but the altered rotation maximizes the department's manpower. "It's up to the guys to make this work. If they want it, they have to demonstrate that it's a win-win scenario. We don't want to lose any productivity," Seely said. "The city is not willing to give up any quality. Any errors are unacceptable so we're going to monitor morale, fatigue, poor decision-making…those things that may be a potential concern." Seely said the new shift schedule will be reviewed after six-month, 12-month and 18-month intervals, allowing department officials to observe successes and failures. "The public should see no change in service, this is an internal change," said Seely. "After six months, we'll survey and look at the pros and cons." Downey fireman Peter Brown, who helped the fire union advocate for the 48/96 schedule, believes the schedule will bring greater unanimity between the fire department and its local counterparts, which regularly train with one another. "A lot of departments are switching to the 48/96 schedule because it tends to be more efficient - it's a no cost item," Brown said. "The state is broken up into areas. Downey is in Area E, which includes Santa Fe Springs, Compton, Vernon and Montebello. All of them have been on the schedule for some time now, except Compton." Making the transition gives the department more flexibility, allowing firefighters to train with other departments in the area, Brown said. "We dubbed it the 'Green Schedule'…Downey has several employees who live in Temecula and other cities. This schedule cuts their commute in half and gives them more quality time with their families," said Brown who has a young family himself. "I get to wake up now and take my kids to school." While some critics worry the intense schedule bears a burden on firefighters, Brown disagrees, confident that firefighters will grow to favor the 48/96 shift schedule once it is enacted. "We're used to 24-hour shifts so 48 hours is no big deal, it's not that much of a change," said Brown. Similarly, Seeley believes the transition shouldn't prove too difficult for Downey's firefighters, but nevertheless, he insists that firefighters remain vigilant. "If you have a busy shift, you have to keep your head up," Seely said. "We get more calls than many of the other local cities so we'll be watching productivity - there can't be any negatives." The 18-month trial period for the 48/96 shift schedule starts June 29.

********** Published: June 23, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 10