Fire Communication Operators that work for the Anne Arundel County Fire Department have opted to move to a 24-hour work shift. Previously, county fire operators worked a combination of 10-hour day shifts followed by 14-hour night shifts. The new 24-hour work shift model will require 24 hours on-duty and will be followed by 72 hours off-duty. Both the previous “10’s and 14’s” and the 24-hour shift schedule result in fire operators working an average of 42 hours per week.
According to the Capitol Gazette, County officials hope the move to a 24-hour shift, which the vast majority of operators supported, will result in reduced fatigue and lower turn-over rates among operators. Many operators complained that working a rotation of days followed by nights resulted in highly unusual sleep patterns and increased levels of fatigue.
Dealing with high turn-over rates among public safety dispatchers is not an issue unique to Anne Arundel County. In fact, according to County Fire Chief Trisha Wolford, employee retention is an issue that “plagues fire departments nationwide.” Under the new shift, operators will have a dedicated 1-hour of break-time during the daytime portion of the 24-hour shift. Additionally, operators will receive a 5-hour break overnight, unless interrupted by unusually high call volume.
Even with the move to 24-hour shifts, the need to fill additional shifts with overtime remains. The county requires seven operators working at any given time. In order to satisfy minimum staffing levels, the county needs a total of 28 operators (seven operators on each group or platoon). Currently, the county only has 21 operators. This results in at least one operator working overtime on every shift and most shifts requiring two operators working overtime. This overtime requirement does not include instances where operators may be out of work due to vacation, illness, or other reasons.
While the county has three new operators in training today and is hopeful that another four will be recruited and trained by this fall, overtime appears to remain high for current operator for the near future.
Click here, for more on the story from the Capitol Gazette.