Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Shift Stuff

I just finished browsing the UFLAC's proposal on the 48/96 shift schedule. My big takeaway: they use lots of primary colors and childrens' book fonts in the report.

Not too many years ago, I was employed at very busy public safety agency where I drove big trucks with flashing lights and two (!!!) sirens required at all times during Code 3 operations.

This particular agency operated on a 24/48 shift schedule. One day on, two days off. Year-round, every year. On paper, it wasn't such a bad schedule. Bust your ass all day and all night at a busy house and get two days off as reward--one day to recover, one day to enjoy. At a quiet house, you'd run a few calls, sleep all night and go home relaxed and refreshed. If you wanted to take five days off, you simply had to burn one vacation day--10 days off and it was only two vacation days. Better yet, find a trade and burn no vacation days.

Sadly, life isn't lived on paper. The biggest drawback of the 24/48 was the overtime issue. At the time, this particular agency had a constant staffing shortage. There was a mandatory overtime list everyday that was eight people deep. On average, you were on the list twice a month. The theory went that one time you'd be near the top and the second time you were supposed to be farther down. Generally, the list didn't go much past poor bastard three or four, though some days it went way deep. It was pretty much a given that if you were number one or two on the list, you'd for sure get hit for overtime the next day.

Suddenly, your 24/48 would turn into a 48/24. Technically, if you were at a busy house the day before you got hit for overtime, then you were supposed to be sent to a quiet house if your number was called and vice versa. However, people generally didn't call in sick or take vacation days at the quiet houses--but they would suddenly be stricken by middle of the night ailments just hours before they were scheduled to report for a 7 a.m. shift at a busy city station. So, more often than not, you filled the holes where they opened.

You had a little more control when you made a trade, since you generally knew where the other person worked and agreed to it beforehand. But the deal with the devil on trades was that you'd get a free five-day but end up having to repay it with a 48/24. That, of course, was tacked on to your two or three days of potential forced overtime each month. So, in any given 10 day per month work cycle--you could do at least two 48s if you got hit for OT, or more if you had to repay a trade or for whatever reason volunteered for an extra shift.

Long story short, the money was good, the exhaustion, not so much. I never fell asleep at the wheel while driving, or had a major screw-up on the job (that I remember; I was too tired most of the time to recall much of what happened after about 10 p.m. on the back half of a 48). I did, however, sleep through a few loud tones going off and fluorescent lights going on, sleepwalked through the fire station and fell asleep on the steering wheel waiting for my partner to drag his or her ass out of bed. There were plenty of drives that I just plain don't remember and more than a few pissy words exchanged with the general public who had utilized 911 and expected a fresh-faced sympathetic responder to show up at 3 a.m. to deal with whatever they needed.

(Sidebar, but important:Even if I did remember any major fuckups on the "important" parts of my job, why the hell would I ever admit them? I mean, I could blame it on the 48 and lack of sleep and all that, but still, where's the incentive to admit mistakes of major consequence--other than a solid moral compass, of course.)

Instead, they got an asshole who'd been on duty for going on two days and had been running calls that whole time. Now, the LAFD has more than 104 stations and a goodly number of those run only a few calls a day--some only a few calls a week (FS 23, FS 40, FS 8, FS 69, FS108, cough cough). But it only takes one exhausted paramedic, Engineer or A/O to fuck up big time. Granted, many LAFDer's already work 48s and 72s on trades, etc., something that can be just as dangerous. But to make every front line employee work a 48 isn't good business. Some folks just aren't made for it. Mental acuity, reflexes, judgment, decision making skills--they all fade rapidly when start to hit that wall in the middle of a busy 48. What if all of above are in short supply with some guys (and gals) to begin with? What if you're riding a busy 800 RA's and (even scarier) the guys on the busy paramedic RA's, say nothing of engineers or A/Os driving the heavy stuff "Emergency" all over town?

It's one thing for a slower department like Beverly Hills or El Segundo to go on a 48/96, but the LAFD?

And institutionalizing a system that puts anyone on overtime automatically on a 72 isn't a great idea. Despite assurances that systems will be in place to rotate folks from busy houses to quiet ones, etc. etc., the reality is that staffing demands rule the day. Fill the holes with warm bodies.

My previous employer only started to learn the hard way when a guy driving a big old Freightliner ambulance at 7 a.m. (on the tail end of a 48) flipped the truck on the freeway when he fell asleep. Wasn't a great experience for his partner or patient in the back.


Anonymous said...

Dudes, dudes, dudes...and dudettes...

First of all, my good friend c6c, it is good to have you back.

Second, that was my old partner falling asleep in that anonymous but oft mentioned EMS system from our past. Not necessarily the best way to make your point. Knowing that particular burned out medic, that turn of events on the interstate probably had more to do with the weed I'm sure he'd smoked ten minutes before the shift than the schedule he was on. Not that we can blame him wanting to ease the pain.

Third, where I completely disagree with you is on your "unilateral opposition" to the 48/96. In my current job, that is our dream schedule. It is the light at the end of the erratic/56 avg. tube of 12s, 24s, and 48s through which I currently surf. 48/96 works -very- well here and is probably one of the keys to our high morale and low attrition. Even at our busiest station, there is at least one medic crazy enough to do the 48/96 and still vastly prefers it to another medic's Kelly-like schedule. So, is it for LAFD? I don't know, but I don't think one can presume it should be off the table. Give it a shot, what's the harm? It's not like people's lives are at stake. Oh, wait...

Anyway, it might be refreshing to consider a truly horrible schedule. I'll give you a hint - there's trouble in paradise but it ain't on this island. Anyway, in this unnamed yet obvious EMS system they work 8's. That's right, 8-hour paramedic shifts. Whose idea was that, and why is it still being carried on? As for the OT problem, imagine the joy of having your ass handed to you for 8 hours, getting held over for mandatory overtime for another 8 hours, then (maybe) having 8 hours to reflect on how much your life sucks before coming back for another 8 to 16 hours of on-the-job fun.

So, I say the lesson is put us to work for a day or two, leave us alone to do our job and assume we're doing it well while we're there, and then give us a bunch of days off. Pretty simple formula to keep us medics happy :-)

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