It is not often
that an act of incredible bravery is committed right before your
eyes. So, read on. What is bravery to some can easily be regarded as
foolishness or lunacy to others. Before writing this article, the HR
Doctor updated his will, arranged for security, put on a protective
Kevlar vest, and verified his life insurance benefits with the human
resources staff. However, here goes.
I preface these
comments by assuring the reader that some of my best friends are
firefighters and I respect them all as true heroes. The HR Dog,
Kamala, and I are also very respectful of every Dalmatian we
that, its time to boldly state what every county and city manager
and every firefighter knows deep down in their hearts. The entire
concept of a 24-hour shift schedule is a museum relic, a poor human
resources practice and is not effective management. There, I said
it! It didnt hurt a bit! You know Im right, dont you?
(i.e., the ancient, the venerable) 24-hour schedule involves an
average of 48 to 56 hours per week of work time. Of course, work
takes on a different meaning in the station. It means active duty
for about eight hours, interrupted by meal time, grocery store time
and exercise. After 5 p.m. the time is occupied by TV watching and
social events when calls arent being answered.
varies widely, of course, depending on how busy the station is and
whether the department is in the middle of a densely populated urban
area or a more peaceful rural atmosphere. Many stations are
literally on the run constantly. Others are unlikely to have their
sleeping patterns disturbed at all.
schedule means there are, perhaps, two days on, followed by four
days off, or some similar arrangement depending on the department.
Add to these days off built into the schedule, three or four weeks
of annual leave, Kelly days off, sick leave, holidays, workers
compensation time, and shift swaps, and the reader can understand
why increasing numbers of fire departments are requiring staff
members to show picture IDs when reporting to work.
No, its not
for security. It is done to reacquaint the management staff with the
employees they had all but forgotten about! Granted, America is a
nation of small businesses and changing the 24-hour shift pattern
would threaten thousands of such businesses run, as they are, by
shift pattern is as old as the fire service. It dates from the times
when pretty white horses towed the wagons to the scene of the fires.
The HR Doctor is convinced archeologists will announce any day now a
startling discovery. I can hear the CNN report now: In an ancient
Neanderthal burial mound, scientists from UCLA uncovered the remains
of a 24-hour shift scheduling log! This scheduling approach
predates modern laws, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act and
non-discrimination laws. It is a breeding ground for grievances,
unnecessary overtime costs and management problems.
In a world
where perhaps 80 percent or more of the 911 calls to fire
departments are for medical emergencies rather than fires, it is an
anachronism. We claim to value innovation in the public service. We
look for new medical procedures. We look for the best protective
equipment (rightfully so) and the latest, very expensive trucks. We
want to build the most comfortable stations and expand the system
even if the system overlaps with other fire department boundaries,
etc. Are we ready to tackle modernizing the most outdated part of
the mix? Is there a better alternative?
Sadly, the HR
Doctor believes that, as a profession, public administration is not
ready! Daring to seriously propose such a move would unleash a
tornado of hostility so great even FEMA wouldnt be effective!
There has built
up over the decades powerful lobbying, campaign donation, and
political effectiveness so great in support of firefighters and
their unions that the opposition to a change in the 24-hour concept
would be overwhelming! No manager will risk watching a career go
down the tubes, or rather, the two-inch hoses, by making the
proposal! No fire chief will last long by being the champion for
this kind of change. In the face of reality, it is perhaps enough of
a public service just to raise the issue and then rush back into the
concrete reinforced bunker of convention!
time will come, the HR Doctor predicts, when the costs in overtime,
in liability, and in tax increases will become so great that even
these kinds of schedules will be called into question by a rising
chorus. Whether it begins in a hyper-busy urban department chorus or
with private entrepreneurship, the time is going to come! It is
already happening with the excessive scheduling of medical interns
and residents work, and it will happen with firefighters.
services are going through an increasing crisis of organization.
Their jurisdictions often resemble maps of 14th century feudal
Europe, rather than rational service delivery areas. Everyone wants
their own helicopters, hazmat units and separate departments. The
county in which the HR Doctor lives has 24 separate departments!
Paraphrasing St. Thomas Aquinas, How many fire departments can
dance on the head of a pin?
rethinking will someday take place over the 24-hour shift schedule!
Once this issue is improved, perhaps we can begin to tackle another
ancient scheduling artifact the summer-off school schedule. I know
Im glad that my children have the summer off so they can help with
the harvest at our house. How about you? Well, one thorny issue at a