Don’t Force Firefighters to Work 24-Hour Shifts

Target: Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore, Maryland

Goal: Don’t force firefighters to work a 24-hour shift every three days in an attempt to cut the city’s budget

In an attempt to save money in Baltimore’s tight budget, Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake has entered into a battle with the city’s fire unions, attempting to force unrealistic hours upon hardworking firefighters. The proposed workweek would mandate 24-hour shifts every three days, saving millions of dollars at the expense of the health and personal wellbeing of those who keep Baltimore safe. Urge Mayor Rawlings-Blake to back down from this proposal and let Baltimore’s firefighters keep their current work schedule.

While Rawlings-Blake claims that the shift would give firefighters a pay raise, the larger paycheck would come as the result of a much longer workweek. Under the new system, Baltimore’s firefighters would actually be making less per hour than they currently earn. That’s to say nothing of the health risks associated with extensive hours. Missing sleep and working through the night can contribute to serious health problems such as shift work disorder, cancer, and heart disease. Working 24 hours straight also causes mental fatigue, leading to errors and oversights in the course of duty. A 2001 study indicated that workers exhibit the cognitive performance of someone with a .05 percent blood alcohol level on their 16th consecutive hour of work.

Longtime employees of Baltimore’s fire brigade have built their personal lives around their current schedules. Many have families to go home to at the end of their shifts. Forcing those who already work tirelessly to keep Baltimore’s residents safe from disaster is no way to balance a budget. Tell Mayor Rawlings-Blake not to force firefighters to work extended hours.


Dear Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake,

In recent months, you have fought to find ways to balance the budget in a cash-strapped city. While I understand that Baltimore needs to cut expenses, forcing firefighters into working longer hours for less pay is not the answer.

Baltimore’s firefighters already work tirelessly to keep the city safe. In fact, 2012 marked the lowest number of fire deaths in the city’s history. Many firefighters have built their lives around their jobs, which they perform dutifully and with honor. Forcing them to work 24-hour shifts every third day disrupts their health and livelihood—something which cannot be priced.

Workers who stay awake for 24 hours at a time experience cognitive difficulties at the end of their shift comparable to someone intoxicated with a .05 blood alcohol content. Furthermore, serious health conditions can arise from work-related disturbances of the body’s natural circadian rhythm. Night shift workers experience a higher risk of cancer and heart disease than those who work during the day. Putting Baltimore’s firefighters at risk for these conditions is no way to reward them for their lifesaving work.

Please, don’t cut a reasonable work schedule for firefighters out of the city’s budget. Let Baltimore’s firefighters keep the schedule they’ve had for the past 20 years.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Ken Mist via Flickr

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