Life of a Firefighter in Raleigh

It is 2021. Raleigh has 29 fires stations and 544 firefighters. So far this year Raleigh’s firefighters have:

responded to 16,026 rescue & emergency medical service incidents
responded to 682 fire incidents
responded to 1817 service calls
responded to 3073 false alarms and false calls
responded to 4203 good intent calls
responded to 6 severe weather and natural disasters
responded to 12 special incidents

A Raleigh firefighter typically works a schedule that repeats every nine days: one day on, one day off, one day on, one day off, one day on, four days off. For each “on” day the firefighter works for 24 hours and “sleeps” in the station. In a given month a firefighter works 9 to 11 “on” days. Including sleep time, this comes to somewhere between 216 and 264 hours a month. Compare that to a “regular” employee who works 40 hours a week or 160 hours a month.

Some will argue that during an “on” day a firefighter will “sleep” during that 24 hour period. I put “sleep” in quotes because often the nights are interrupted for calls (see above, 16,026 rescue and emergency medical service incidents in 8 months not to mention other types of incidents).

Each month a firefighter accrues a certain number of “days” vacation depending on length of service. For example, a firefighter with 10 years of service will accrue 1.5 “days” of vacation every month. The formula is the same for other City of Raleigh employees.

For regular employees an accrual of a day vacation is an accrual of 8 hours. If you want to take a Friday (or a Monday) off for a long weekend, you can do so by using one day vacation.

For a firefighter it is different. Their day of vacation amounts to 12 hours. To take an entire day off (remember, firefighters work 24 hour shifts), they must use two days of accrued vacation.

One of the things that I would like to do is to change how firefighters use their accrued vacation – allow them to take one 24 hour day off using one day of accrued vacation.

Let’s recognize that the life of a firefighter is very different from regular employees such as office workers. Firefighters are at their workplace 216 to 264 hours a month. Even though they can sleep at the station, that sleep is often interrupted and they are expected to respond in top form day or night. So far this year that has meant responding to more than 16,000 rescue and emergency medical incidents – in top form.

I think that using one day of accrued vacation for a 24 hour period is fair given the hours worked, the nature of the job, and how many of us literally depend our lives on them.