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From the Editor


April 1, 2011
By Laura King


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A lifetime ago when I chased fire trucks for a living as a young reporter, I worked shifts, often 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. when much of the good stuff happened for those of us on the police/fire beat.

A lifetime ago when I chased fire trucks for a living as a young reporter, I worked shifts, often 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. when much of the good stuff happened for those of us on the police/fire beat. Later, as an editor for the now-defunct Mail-Star (the afternoon edition of the Halifax Chronicle-Herald), I worked from 4 a.m. until noon. My husband, also a reporter/editor for The Canadian Press, often worked the dreaded 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift. He’d pull into the driveway at 3:30 a.m. or so and leave the car running and I’d hustle out the door at that ungodly hour to start my day.

In 24-7 vocations like journalism or the fire service, shift work is a necessary evil. As the 24-hour shift works its way into more Canadian fire departments, managers are struggling to finding the lesser of those evils to make sure firefighters are alert and astute and can perform their jobs to the best of their abilities.

Sleep deprivation, sleep debt, circadian rhythms and the body’s natural shut-down mechanisms that kick in after about 16 hours are being looked at by the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs as it tries to figure out options for manning stations around the clock.

At a recent labour relations seminar in Toronto, a lawyer who spends a lot of time negotiating collective agreements for fire departments asked a sleep expert what shift makes the most sense for firefighters. He recommended longer day shifts, shorter night shifts and, if there’s no option but a 24-hour shift, then as much distance as possible between 24-hour shifts (eliminate the Friday-Sunday rotation, he said). Seems to make sense.

The elephant in the room in these types of discussions about firefighters and sleep, of course, is the fact that firefighters do sleep during the 14-hour night shift and the 24-hour shift, unless they are in extremely busy stations, and even then – as in Toronto – stations shut down for a couple of hours overnight to allow for at least a bit of sleep.

It’s clear that firefighters like the 24-hour shift – the reasons are outlined in our story on page 8 – and that some departments find the shift works great while others struggle with training time, vacation schedules and overtime.

With dozens of departments in Ontario, and some in other provinces – such as the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service – looking at the 24-hour shift, it’s imperative that managers make sure they do what’s best for the health and safety of their firefighters and for the communities they serve, and that unions and management work together to come up with the best possible solutions to the 24-hour shift dilemma. Stay tuned.

•  •  •

This month we’re excited to introduce firehall food writer Patrick Mathieu from the Waterloo Fire Department in Ontario. Patrick’s passion for healthy, nutritious, delicious and reasonably priced firehall meals is clear in his inaugural Recipe Rescue column on page 28. We recognize that many of our readers are volunteer firefighters who don’t cook in the firehall so we’ve ensured that Patrick’s recipes are easy and adaptable for use at home – your spouses or significant others will thank you!

Also this month, Lee Sagert from Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services debuts his column about combined fire and EMS. Lethbridge has been a fire/EMS service since 1912 and most of its members are firemedics who are trained in both disciplines. With the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association promoting combined fire/EMS, Sagert’s column will surely provide invaluable insight.


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