The New Haven Fire Department and the fire union recently signed an agreement increasing the amount of consecutive time that firefighters are allowed to work.
NHFD Chief John Alston said the current firefighter schedule constitutes three 10-hour days, followed by three 14-hour nights and a break for the following three days. In the past, he said, firefighters were not allowed to work more than 24 hours of consecutive service, meaning that they could not, for example, fill in another firefighter’s nighttime shift between daytime shifts. The 24-hour limit made it difficult for firefighters to swap shifts and often meant that additional help had to be called in at overtime rates.
On Oct. 31, however, the NHFD and the local fire union signed a memo of understanding extending the 24-hour limit to 38 hours.
Alston said the agreement allows firefighters to work on more convenient schedules and to cover for each other, in addition to reducing the department’s overtime costs.
“We’re already seeing a drop [in overtime],” he said. “It’s good for morale and for firefighter health, because now they can swap and work together.”
Another component of the agreement, Alston said, asks the NHFD to develop a rotational schedule for paramedics in order to reduce their consecutive shift time. Paramedics may soon be able to rotate from working in the trucks to inside the firehouse, Alston said, adding that he was concerned about providing relief for paramedics working long shifts on the job.
The fire union could not be reached for comment.
Deputy Director of Emergency Operations Rick Fontana said that under the new system, overtime costs will be reduced since “instead of taking a sick day, a firefighter might be more inclined to swap with another firefighter at no cost to the city.”
According to city spokesman Laurence Grotheer, the Oct. 31 agreement is part of Mayor Toni Harp’s latest initiative to address “stubborn overtime expenses.”
“The city is training and promoting other firefighters to fill shifts in command positions,” Grotheer said. “If there are more firefighters trained and qualified, there are more firefighters to bring in at straight time.”
He added that this strategy will continue in the future, with more promotions and more classes to be held at the fire training school.