Changes of shift are essential to firefighter well being
The following letter was submitted by leadership from the Warwick Firefighters Union. It has been edited for formatting purposes.
Firefighting is routinely ranked as one of the most physically and emotionally demanding occupations.
A COS (Change of Shift) is a simple action taken that has no impact on taxpayer fiscal liability, and in return greatly improves a firefighter’s physical and emotional well being.
It’s an honest, sensible, professional and mutually respectful agreement between two firefighters that is an equal exchange for time worked. It all boils down to one person simply helping another in a profession rooted in that fundamental principle.
The increased physical and emotional stressors that firefighters routinely deal with lead to many life challenges.
The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance estimates that 30 percent of the nation's 1.3 million firefighters have some level of PTSD. 132 firefighter suicides were reported last year with firefighters 3-4 times more likely to harm themselves as opposed to experiencing fatality in an on-duty incident.
USFA.FEMA.GOV detailed a May 2017 Brigham and Women’s sleep/health study of more than 6,000 firefighters. They wrote, “Firefighters who respond to emergency calls around the clock and routinely work 24-hour shifts, often experience acute sleep deprivation, chronic sleep deficiency, and a chronic misalignment of the natural body clock.”
In addition to increased physical injuries, higher rates of cancer for firefighters are annually reported by OSHA and NIOSH.
All of this, added with missed family time on nights, weekends, and holidays equals the perfect equation for the decades long physical and emotional breakdown of a firefighter.
It is for these reasons that firefighters exchange their time for each other, in the form of a change of shift. This occurs when a fellow firefighter is dealing with challenges associated with the normal fluidity of daily family life such as when a firefighter NEEDS a shift off to go to his daughter's Saturday afternoon graduation or his son's Wednesday night baseball game.
It all comes down to one firefighter trying to help improve another firefighters quality of life, and to, in a small way, help that firefighter to avoid the many physical and emotional pitfalls of a long firefighting career. Again, we would like to reiterate that there is zero negative fiscal impact to the department, or the members of the community.
A strong bond with the community is essential to what we do and we want the people we serve to know we do so with integrity and will always be there when called.