It's 2021, pat yourself on the back, we made it. Without a doubt 2020 was one of the toughest years in my career. Covid and manpower shortages made for some exhausting shifts. Throughout this process it brought to light the need to look at some antiquated rules. You see, the fire service is horrible about maintaining the status-quo. "We have always done it this way" can be heard echoing the halls of fire administrations everywhere. What a lot of leaders don't understand is, the status-quo, was once a challenge to the status-quo. Inevitably, as times change, so should we. Antiquated rules have stagnated the fire service and slowed proper growth, and the answer is not as difficult as some would like to make it.
You see, the majority of rules we see enforced now were written decades ago, some date back 50 years or more. Now ask yourself, how much has the fire service changed since then? A lot! Yet rarely do we revisit how these rules effect us, instead we just keep enforcing them. It is easier to maintain than to question, and leaders who don't know how to lead obsess over things that don't matter. Usually those "things that don't matter" are some of the rules that need to be extinct.
When these rules were put into place the average station in my County ran 2-3 calls a shift, and they slept pretty much every night. At that time firefighting was one of the few jobs you could get without a college degree and still have a decent retirement, therefore it was a lifelong decision for them, not a, "I'll see if I like it" job. It was a much different picture, one that has become very fuzzy over the last decade. Our turnover rates have skyrocketed, Counties and Cities that normally have hire-on waiting list are begging for help, we are in a different time. Outside of the Millennial and Xennials discussion lies some really serious stuff, our lives.
The lack of sleep in firefighters has drawn national attention this past year. Over 40% of us suffer from sleep disorders. We hear tones when we are off, see lights flash in our peripheral vision and think we have a call, we are never "off". It is not only a sleep problem, it is a major health issue. Lack of sleep has been proven to cause mental stress, depression, heart disease, and more. We are hell bent on keeping our men and women safe in a fire, but we turn our heads to other issues that are just as dangerous, and even more deadly. How many times have you struggled to stay awake on the way home from a long shift? How many miles have you forgotten in a transport? It happens daily. All of this is known, it is not a secret, it is not hard to find, just Google it. Yet Fire Departments across the nation still grasps to the old school thinking of "no one lays down during the day", or "everyone gets up an hour before shift change". Once again, these rules were written by Chiefs running 2-3 calls in 24 hours, if that! Now we are running 12-15, sometimes more. Our ambulances are up all night long running ridiculous calls, barely seeing a bed, yet blind officers still slam the walls and holler for them to get up an hour before shift change "because we have always done it this way". It is way past due to wipe this ridiculous rule out. If your truck is checked, your training is current, and the station is clean, what does it hurt to nap? Our station officers should be trusted to make that call for their crew, not a widespread SOP from a Chiefs desk, a Chief that most likely sleeps all night and doesn't have to work two jobs. I will not have on my conscious a medic dying on the way home from the station because he/she fell asleep at the wheel. I love the saying "a rested fireman is a ready fireman". There is a lot of truth to that. Who would you want showing up to your house in the time of need? A firefighter/medic who can barely keep his/her eyes open or one that has had some time to rest. The answer is pretty clear to me. Departments and Municipalities across the Country are setting themselves up for a huge liability and they don't even acknowledge it. Refusing sleep to a tired firefighter that then falls asleep and kills someone on the way home, yea that's going to be a big settlement. This is not just a health issue, it can have big financial problems tied to it as well. I am not advocating an all day sleep-a-thon, just some common sense time to rest. It is what is best for all of us, our health, and our families.
Thanks for reading part one of this series, next I tackle the dreaded buttoned up pressed shirt. You know, the one we wear for a blue collar job. Yea, that's the one. Stay safe, and stay educated. God bless.
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