By Adam Stocker and Devon Momy-Gamache
After seven years of negotiating and planning, the Brantford Fire Department adopted a new shift schedule that took effect Feb. 22.
Firefighters now work one 24-hour shift followed by three days of rest. Previously, firefighters worked four 10-hour shifts and had four days off, followed by four 14-hour night shifts and another four days off to end the cycle.
The new system was designed to allow more rest between shifts. The extra rest is designed to help firefighters remain more alert while working.
“I found it tough to balance it out and then come back [the next night], especially if we had a busy four nights,” said firefighter Dave Searles. “I found it hard to catch back up on my sleep. With a 24[-hour shift], you’re back at home again so it’s not too bad. You just sleep better at home.”
Fellow firefighter Patrick Vinczec agreed. “On the four-night schedule, by the third night I was exhausted. It seems on the 24-hour shift, each shift I come in fresher and I’m into the shift and ready to do my job.”
The Brantford Professional Firefighters Association (BPFA) has been advocating for the shift change to help the firefighters improve their personal lives as well. “I get to spend a lot more time at home and being a part of my kids’ lives,” said Searles. “I’m sure the other guys enjoy getting to spend more time at home with their families too.”
“I love my job and the guys I work with but I love my family more,” said Vinczec. “With this schedule, I know if I work Christmas, I’ll have Christmas Eve off, so it’s better that way.”
Maintaining a healthy amount of rest helps firefighters remain alert while working and potentially increase their training efforts. Under the old system, eight of the 14 hours on shift were designated for sleep, although calls throughout the night prevented firefighters from getting eight consecutive hours of sleep.
“Our last set [of night shifts], we had a call down at the river. We were out most of the night and then we had two fires back to back. So I probably spent two to three days recovering after that just getting my sleep back, and that for me was the hardest part,” said Searles.
The new shift change is a four-year trial. After the trial period, a joint committee of the BPFA and the management committee will make a final decision. “We (the committee) will be monitoring training and absences, because if this is healthier lifestyle for the firefighters there should be less absences, response times and overtime to make sure when we transition to 24-hour shifts, this is successful the firefighters and the corporation,” said Fire Chef Jeff McCormick.
The change will affect 106 firefighters in Brantford. McCormick said he was not expecting any increase in costs due to the change.
The fire department and the BPFA have been negotiating the new system since 2009 but are not behind other municipalities of similar sizes. Nineteen of 29 cities with a smaller population than Brantford are either still either in the process of negotiating a change or are still operating under the old system with no current plans to change. Twenty-three of 26 cities with a larger population have already made the change.