The I-Team asks: Are firefighters getting paid to sleep?

12:01 p.m Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017 Local

As several area cities update their fire stations, some proudly tout improved spaces for their firefighters to sleep at the station.

Trenton Fire Chief Darrell Yater said in an interview this week that a new $2.5 million fire station there will feature actual beds instead of break room recliners and couches.

RELATED: Trenton firefighters go from cramped space to new $2.5M firehouse

The city of Kettering’s new fire stations feature individual bedrooms for each first responder on shift.

RELATED: Kettering opens first of four new fire stations

All of this begs the question: Are firefighters getting paid to sleep? Other professions — police, included – keep their operations running 24 hours a day. But they don’t have beds at work.

We posed this question to Doug Stern, spokesman for the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters.

He noted it is part of the tradition of firefighting. But another factor is the main reason, he said.

“It saves cities money,” he said.

HOW MUCH ARE FIREFIGHTERS PAID?: Search the I-Team Payroll Project

Stern is a Cincinnati firefighter and used his department as an example. They work 24 hours in a shift, then have 48 hours off. This comes out to 48 hours a week, instead of 40 for most professions. So you need fewer employees.

“We work longer weeks so we have the ability to lay down at the firehouse — I don’t want to call it ‘sleep,’” he said.

“You could be up all night, could be up part of the night, you could be up an hour here and hour there,” he said. “It’s really hard to pin down how many hours are spent in bed, because you’re not really sleeping. You’re in a state of alert, one-foot-on-the-floor type of thing.”

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Trenton Fire Chief Darrell Yater said the practice also reflects the type of work: switching shifts while battling an active blaze or responding to a disaster is impractical. So they need to have as few shift changes as possible.

Departments like the one in Trenton, which is staffed by part-timers and volunteers, have another reason for needing beds, Yater said.

He said his department pays part-timers from 6 a.m. to midnight, but only an on-call rate of $5 an hour from midnight to 6 a.m. Firefighters who are on call can stay at home and make the same rate, but some live outside the city or find it easier to stay at the station to make sure they can respond quickly if needed.

“If people are here, my thing is they should have proper accommodations,” he said.

Yater added that departments like Trenton’s are increasingly having a hard time getting volunteers and firefighters, so he wanted the new station to be ready if they switch to full-timers with longer shifts.

“It’s just the nature of fire service,” he said.

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