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What is The Best Fire Department Schedule?

In recent years we’ve seen a steady move in the shift patterns of workers all over the US, including the public safety industries. This is partly due to the growing importance of employee off-time to help improve and bolster wellness and performance. This movement has seen an increase in the 48/96 schedule (3:4 ratio) which offers two 24-hour shifts on shift followed by four days off to allow firefighters the time to recover from duty and also embrace other interests in their lives.

Fire departments must strike a delicate balance between operational demands and firefighter well-being when crafting their schedules. While the 48/96 shift schedule is often hailed as the gold standard, it's essential to explore how alternative schedules compare and what they mean for the firefighters who adhere to them.

The quality of off-time

Different shift schedules offer varying degrees of off-time, influencing firefighters' ability to rest, recharge, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

48/96 Shift Schedule 

As mentioned, this schedule provides firefighters with four consecutive days off after working two consecutive 24-hour shifts. The extended break allows for ample recovery time and allows opportunities for personal and familial engagements.

24/48 Shift Schedule

In contrast, the 24/48 shift schedule consists of one day on duty followed by two days off. While firefighters benefit from frequent breaks, the shorter off-duty periods may limit their ability to fully disconnect from work-related stressors and engage in meaningful downtime activities.

Kelly Shift Schedule 

Named after its inventor, Chief Frank Kelly of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire, this schedule involves working 24 hours on duty followed by 24 hours off duty for four shifts, then having four consecutive days off. While it offers firefighters more frequent breaks compared to traditional schedules, the rapid switch between day and night shifts can disrupt circadian rhythms and hinder sleep quality.

The affect on sleep and fatigue

Firefighters' ability to obtain restorative sleep and manage fatigue is heavily influenced by the structure of their shift schedules.

  • 48/96 Shift Schedule: By aligning with natural circadian rhythms and providing extended off-duty periods, this schedule promotes consistent sleep patterns and reduces the risk of chronic fatigue and burnout.

  • 24/48 Shift Schedule: While firefighters benefit from regular breaks, the shorter off-duty periods may lead to sleep deprivation and increased fatigue over time, potentially compromising performance and safety.

  • Kelly Shift Schedule: The rapid rotation between day and night shifts can disrupt sleep-wake cycles, making it challenging for firefighters to obtain quality rest. This irregularity may exacerbate fatigue and impair cognitive function, particularly during critical incidents.

Striving for Optimal Performance and Well-Being

In the quest to optimize firefighter scheduling practices, fire departments must carefully consider the trade-offs associated with different shift schedules. While each schedule offers its own set of advantages and challenges, the 48/96 shift schedule emerges as the frontrunner for promoting firefighter well-being, safety, and performance.

By providing firefighters with extended periods of off-duty time and aligning with natural circadian rhythms, the 48/96 schedule offers a holistic approach to fatigue management and ensures that firefighters are better equipped to handle the demands of their profession.

However, it's crucial for fire departments to tailor their scheduling practices to meet the unique needs and preferences of their personnel, considering factors such as workload, commute times, and family obligations.

We at Firehouse247 can configure any schedule into your system, whether it’s a 48/96, 24/48, Kelly structure or more. To speak to an advisor about reducing the administration time spent on your department scheduling, please visit our Contact page to arrange a meeting.


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