Amidst the growing tendency in some parts of the US to approve 48-hours as the normal for firefighter duty shifts, the fire chief of Washington, DC, Kenneth Ellerbe, is taking an assertive step in the opposite direction.
According to the Washington Post, Ellerbe is promoting a schedule change from the current 24-hour system to 12-hour shifts of the 3-days, 3-nights, 3-off variety.
And, it’s getting some traction–the Post has written a measured editorial in favor of the change, lining up behind Chief Ellerbe. They cite overtime reductions and safer work conditions through less fatigue as some of the motivating factors.
But the Post also acknowledged the turmoil such a change would create as firefighters have molded their private lives around the 24-shift though the editorial board comes out in favor of a pay raise as an inducement, as well as the need to make the change at the bargaining table rather than through legislative action.
There would seem to be little chance that IAFF Local 36 would agree to such a change in negotiations, which means that the battle could well take place in a City Council nearly fatally weakened by ethical shortcomings and rivalries. Which, is, of course, great news for firefighters who like the current shift.
To their detriment, DC’s firefighters, outside of their emergency responses, are a largely invisible presence in the community. They seem to be totally dis-engaged at the neighborhood level, a very serious problem indeed, when you may need activists calling their Council Member on your behalf.
Having strong community support means being part of it and like it or not, that takes more than effective emergency response.