48/96: Self-Inflicted Irrelevance

So Much for Mission Critical

Cambridgeshire_fire_engine

Statter 9/11 highlighted a California newspaper editorial this weekend outing the apparent ridiculousness of firefighters having a regular duty shift of 48 hours followed by 96 hours off.

The writer, Diana Diamond, seems no friend of firefighters, but that hardly matters when she’s right.

48/96 is the unassailable triumph of reckless greed not only over professionalism, but Labor integrity and wisdom, as well.

What other critical peacetime profession regularly assigns personnel to be on duty for two straight days?

You Can Fool Some of the People

We love to tell the public, and each other, just how essential we are.

I have read firefighters commenting on their “razor sharp skills.”

How important or essential can your skills be if you can practice them for 48 hours?

Who would want a heart valve replacement by a surgeon on her 45th hour on duty?

Want to board an airplane with a flight crew starting hour 40?

How about a police officer rolling up on a robbery on hour 47?

The very idea is absurd and outlandish yet we managed to convince ourselves we are somehow different.

We aren’t.

IAFF

Diamond says the IAFF is pushing the 48/96 agenda.

If true, it is but the latest example of a union lacking leadership and foresight.

It’s running our “profession”, if we can still call it that, right off the cliff by loudly proclaiming that we do so little that we can do it forever.

There is a robust body of literature concerning work/rest cycles and the very real dangers of the role that fatigue plays in workplace accidents and incidents.

Any leader, labor or management, who chooses to ignore the obvious, and commonsense, too, has abandoned the profession entirely.

They have also abrogated their responsibility to be informed and to think and plan strategically.

The Exact Wrong Move

We are on the cusp of revolutionary technological change.

Self-driving machines, unmanned aerial vehicles and robotics will change the landscape utterly.

Coupled with emerging fire extinguishing technologies, the future of firefighters, at least as we have known it, is very seriously in doubt.

Of course, it won’t happen overnight, but rather one inexorable step at a time.

It cannot be halted, only slowed.

What rationale would slow it?

Why, the importance of humans, of course.

But, there’s a problem with that.

If you can do what you do for two days in a row, a robot can do it better.

With 48/96, we have surrendered our most potent defense, ourselves, before the first shot was even fired.

Enjoy it, while it lasts.

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4 Comments

  • BH says:

    We had a department in my area being forced onto a 56-hour schedule who argued that 24s were dangerous. Meanwhile, several other Locals in the area negotiated for 24s, and one negotiated for 48s. The irony was both delicious and infuriating.

    Any Local who asks for or willingly accepts 48s don’t get to ever again claim that only career firefighters provide quality patient-centered EMS- because they clearly don’t give a single shit about what kind of care their citizens get.

  • DannO says:

    If you don’t think firefighters should do a 48’s then firefighters should never take an overtime after working a 24.
    And with that line of reasoning and for the sake of safety and quality of patient care, 24 hours is too long to work. We should opt for 8 hour shifts, Monday – Friday.

  • NKP says:

    I’m glad this this article was written. It is always good to intelligently discuss important issues in the fire service. The sentiment expressed by Mr. Lamar is one that I have personally dealt with over the past decade. I was lucky enough to be on the committee that helped create and pass our 48/96 schedule change. It took over 20 years to change from when it was originally introduced as an idea and has faced a lot of opposition during that time.

    Now, I am a little confused about Mr. Lamar’s broad generalization and points that he brings up. The article brings up a myriad of threats that the 48/96 might encounter. Unfortunately, there is very little data to support his and the author, Diana Diamond, who both share the same opinion. So lets take a look:

    The article states “There is a robust body of literature concerning work/rest cycles and the very real dangers of the role that fatigue plays in workplace accidents and incidents.” I agree, however if you GOOGLE “48/96 sleep deprivation” you will find a bunch of articles about the benefits of the 48/96 with ACTUAL data, surveys and research. Here are just a few that I found in a 10 second search:

    http://www.signavitae.com/2015/04/the-impact-of-changing-work-schedules-on-american-firefighters-sleep-patterns-and-well-being/ – excerpt taken from this link – “We found the switch from the Kelly schedule to the 48/96 schedule, led to favorable improvements in sleep, including an increase of hours slept, a small but statistically significant reduction in daytime sleepiness, and an increase in feelings of refreshment. We also observed improved scores for secondary objectives of interest, such as feelings of burnout, time for personal schedules and perceptions of satisfaction with the work schedule.”

    http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/change-in-schedule-doubles-firefighters-time-on-duty/article_86e9e41c-f2b0-5cd6-adf7-5834911ddd9a.html

    Mr Lamar also blames our unions and leadership which have “abrogated their responsibility to be informed and to think and plan strategically”. (Sorry I had to look up the work abrogated – I’ll save you the trouble, it means revoked.) Personally, I disagree with this fact. I am very proud of our departments union and leadership to get this passed in spite of all of the external opposition. I have my theories on why other “powers that be” may not have wanted this change, however, it is very political and had nothing to do with safety or performance. So, lets save that for another discussion altogether.

    Lastly, I wanted to address the quote “If you can do what you do for two days in a row, a robot can do it better.” Again, I think that this may be a bit on the over-dramtic side. Usually recreationally outraged citizens bring up this argument, not fellow firefighters. Our department is literally the heart of Silicon Valley, and we are surrounded by the worlds greatest technological advancements. Trust me, we are well aware of how technology is drastically changing our profession. It can be stressful and it is important to be able to adapt to all of these changes. However, everyone is susceptible to technological advancements, not just the fire service.

    In my opinion, stress is the biggest threats to firefighters. Stress is the main contributor to heart attacks, obesity, poor health, and even suicide. Stress is the hidden threat that is the invisible elephant in the room and needs to be addressed. The reason that I fought so hard for this change is because only we (the fire service) can truly look out for ourselves. And looking at all of the data, it is clear that the 48/96 brings about better overall sleep quality which leads to better job satisfaction.

    I speak with many firefighters who have gone to the 48/96 (most all of our surrounding ares, we are literally one of the last to change). They say that they have faced all of these challenges and misguided anger about how the 48/96 will be the end of the fire service. Well, you know what most all say? That they love the schedule and most of the problems that have arisen, have been intelligently addressed. In fact, most all of the departments (maybe with the exception of one that I have heard switched back for political reasons) that switched to the 48/96 have stayed and most of the naysayers have, for the most part, have disappeared.

    Maybe Mr. Lamar and Diana Diamond should write follow up articles in 2 years about the 48/96 has ruined this particular fire department. Or not.

    Tell you what, Ill report back…

  • Michael says:

    What a ridiculous article. And yes, I am talking about this article, not the one being criticized. My department works a regular 24/48 schedule but some of us through regular trades with a trade partner, manage a 48/96 schedule. I have been doing it for 2 years and hope I never have to go back to the regular schedule and 99% of people that work that schedule would tell you the same thing. I feel like I am a better husband and father when I am at home and then a better FF at work because I actually get fully tested and recharged, ready to serve the public again when I come back to work. As another post stated, do you think that OT shifts are “self inflicted irrelevance ” as well? Perhaps those should be banned as well and any leadership that allows them should be ashamed. Your article is misleading and is not supported by one shred of evidence. It is a matter of your personal opinion that I would assume isn’t even backed up by your own personal experience. I was a bit nervous of the idea myself before I tried it and after doing it for quite some time now, I can tell you the benefits FAR outweigh the costs. Almost anyone who works that schedule will tell you that. I dont even know if you are a firefighter yourself, but are you suggesting that all FF’s are just racing from one critical call after another for 48 hours straight? Where does that happen anywhere? And yes, some departments such as the busy houses in NY or Detroit may not benefit from it, but I can tell you that my house usually gets about 12-15 calls per day and I still feel rested enough to perform my duty at a high level. In closing… you dont know what you are talking about. I have worked both types of schedules and the benefits of a 48/96 schedule are undeniable.

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