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We have 4 stations each with a crew of at least 3, a Capt., Operator & Firefighter on each shift. Each shift also has a Floating Capt. and Operator to cover vacations, sick leave, ect.. Well with his newly implemented policy there are likely to be lots of people out at the same time and not enough body’s to cover the open slots. As it stands now there is a lot of OT and guys don’t want it anymore. They like the 24 / 48 schedule not a 48 /24 schedule. Sooner or later they will be forcing people to stay at work.

My question is, is this legal? We have the Capt. / Driver law and we understand that. But can they force me to stay at work if I turn down OT and there is no one available to cover my spot. I know in a time of emergency... YES they can (ie. Hurricane, tornado, natural disaster). But if there is no emergency and because there is not enough staff and guys won’t accept OT, can they force me to stay, against my will. Do I have any legal standing? All people keep saying is that,” you will be AWOL if you don’t stay and will be terminated”. I know that I am getting Overtime pay but sometimes I just want to go home and have a break/ see my family.

And a force day every once and a while I would not have a problem with but after about 2 or 3 times in a row without notice cause someone calls in sick it will get old quick. Not to mention we all have part time jobs and they won’t be very understanding.

Guidance anyone?

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This may be a little long but you raise an important issue in your question.

The department can do what it needs to do to ensure the department can deliver services safely. If you are in a bargaining unit, your contract should define the hours of overtime and under what conditions "forced overtime" occurs.

In my personal experience as my departments Health and Safety Officer, we saw an increase in injuries for firefighters who work longer than a 48 hour shift. Those injuries are generally the sprains, strains and back problems that will take a firefighter off-line for a period of time compounding the departments overtime and staffing issues.

It is my opinion that forced overtime creates a hazardous situation for the firefighter and department. If you are in a busy house, 48 hours is the maximum to work without a break. There are a couple of research papers (below) on this issue that add some substance to your concerns.

Some state laws may preclude a 72 hour shift without a 12 hour break in-between or after the first 48 hours due to safety concerns.

In an article found in the Economic Policy Institute entitled “Time After Time: Mandatory Overtime in the U.S. Economy” by Lonnie Golden & Helene Jorgensen January 1, 2002 validates the problems with a longer shift and a rise in injuries. (

A portion of the article indicates that:

Long hours can detrimentally affect workers, their co-workers, their families, consumers, and the public. Indeed, there is evidence that, despite the short-term benefits that make overtime attractive to employers (Easton and Rossin 1997), it may in the longer term create offsetting harm to an organization by decreasing quality, increasing mistakes (Babbar and Aspelin 1998; Hirschman 2000), and reducing productivity (Shepard and Clifton 2000). A study on the effects of overtime work on autoworkers found that overtime resulted in impaired performance in attention and executive functions. Workers also reported feeling more fatigued and depressed after working more than eight hours a day (Proctor et al. 1996). It is not surprising, then, that accident rates increase during overtime hours (Kogi 1991). For example, researchers have identified overtime as a factor contributing to safety incidents at nuclear power plants (Baker et al. 1994), confirming what researchers had previously found at manufacturing plants (Schuster 1985) and among anesthetists (Gander et al. 2000). Workers who work overtime face a greater risk of injury and illness (Aakerstedt 1994; Duchon et al. 1994; Rosa 1995; Smith 1996). For a typical example, a German study found that, after nine hours at work, the accident rate begins to rise; in the 12th hour the accident rate was twice as high as the rate for the first nine hours (Hanecke et al. 1998). Long work hours also multiply repetitive motions and exposure to harmful chemicals.

Further, frequent overtime and compressed work schedules that produce long workdays can be a major cause of the stress and chronic fatigue reported by many workers, as well as the ensuing occupational burnout or serious health conditions (Sparks et al. 1997; Spurgeon et al. 1997; Martens et al. 1999; Barnett et al. 1999; Shields 1999; Fenwick and Tausig 2001). Stress can result in increased blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases, which in some cases can have fatal consequences.

The Japanese, known for long work hours, even have a word - karoshi - to describe death from overwork (Hayashi et al. 1996; and Sokejima and Kagamimori 1998).

In the U.S., job stress is estimated to cost industry $150 billion per year in absenteeism, health insurance premiums, diminished productivity, compensation claims, and direct medical costs (Donatelle and Hawkins 1989). Longer work hours can only contribute further to this drain. A study by Northwestern National Life (1991), which investigated employee burnout, found that seven out of 10 employees experiencing job stress said they frequently suffered health ailments.

Frequent mandatory overtime was one of the leading five factors that caused increased stress. Employees who worked overtime on a regular basis were twice as likely (62% vs. 34%) to report that they found their jobs to be highly stressful.

Check out your states Labor and Industry Section it out and if you feel strongly about it file a complaint with them related to the safety issues a 72 hour shift creates.

This is a great question. Thanks for starting the discussion

Be safe.


First, I'd suggest toughing it out in the short term. Directly disobeying an order that doesn't present an immediate life or limb concern will likely get you successfully fired. 


You were not clear what this new policy is or how it came about? Did they cut the "floaters" and decide to use overtime to cover? Does your contract have a minimum manning clause requiring these slots be filled? 


Has the Union consideed filing grievances each time this happens outside what your contract has outlined?


Lastly, would your union rather have station closures? If it came down to not being able to meet minimum apparatus manning, could they close a house and move personnel? While this is not a good situation, it might be the practical solution to not having enough personnel to cover minimum manning vs. tossing the minimum manning clause.


Good luck. 

The suggestion to check your labor agreement (if there is one) for staffing regulation(s) is a good one.  Your answer might be there. 


Be careful what you ask for.  Overtime is over pay (more pay) – an opportunity to make more than your salary.  The goal is to create a balance.  Ability to staff positions when needed but not to force so much overtime that morale and safety are compromised. 


Also, your bargaining group may be able to use the amount of mandatory overtime to justify hiring more personnel. 



At my department we have what you call "forced overtime", we call it mandated overtime. To keep minimum staffing, overtime to fill the vacancies is paged out to all of the department members. If the vacancies cannot be filled, members from the off going shift are "mandated" to stay. The mandated time is from 0800-2000hrs. The firefighter being mandated is paid at an overtime rate. The lowest ranking man on shift is mandated to stay. Once you have been mandated once in a fiscal year you are no longer eligible to be mandated and they work up the list of senority. Hope this helps.

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