Should there be a minimum number of hours of pay when on an assignment? I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.
First off I’m a federal employee and go on numerous assignments per year in a number of states and under many different qualified positions. I have been listening to lots of arguments from captains that we should be “portal to portal” on fires. Let’s face it that is not going to happen any time soon and I feel that a more incremental approach needs to be used. If you were to add up federal pay for a firefighter on a 16 hour shift with differentials you will find 24 hours of pay. How you ask? Well this is how it works. Hazard pay is 25% of your hourly pay x hours worked, Then Time and a Half 150%, and finely your base pay.
Hazard pay 25% x 16hr= 4 hours of base pay
Time and a half 150% x 8hr= 12 hours of base pay
Base pay 8hr = 8 hours of base pay.
So once added 4+12+8= 24 hours of base pay.
It seems to be a great system if implementing a 16 hour work shift on a fire. It also appears to be the same as municipal, Cal Fire type pay and on the surface it is. So my problem is not with the system of pay that we have established but rather with the implementation of the system. As a federal fire fighter we seem to get ordered for stand by frequently and that is where my first problem arises. I’ve been frequently assigned to severity when receiving 10-12 hr days. I have also been assigned to fires where I have returned to camp at the same time as previous shifts and found the next day that hours have been decreased. Let’s say from 16hr to 15hr or even down to 12hr. The difficult thing to swallow is finding that other modules working the same section of line having different hours higher or lower but working the same amount of time. I have talked with many resources assigned to the same division sometimes doing the same job that have a contract that pays them in 24hr segments or that have a daily rate. Positions within camp frequently have not seed a decrease in hours even with a decrease in workload human resource, supply, camp security, finance, check in, demobilization, etc.
“Hours payed for hours worked” is this is becoming a popular saying out on the fire line now a days. I say yes this is a good concept but you need to consider what constitutes working hours. There is a lot of time spent off the clock preparing for the next shift especially once hours become decreased. When working as a module lead you have to instruct folks on where to sleep meeting times and general accountability of crew. Being in a location that you can be found to go back out to the line if a need arises and then being able to locate your crew to go back out to the line. This all goes back to spending you’re personal off the clock time bringing people to medical tents, replacing personal equipment, and other accountability checking in or out when employees go across camp.
I have also seen an increase when assigned to an incident the need to justify not having a meal brake. “So just show a 15.5hr day to make it easy” or “Is it worth going home for .5hrs on your time?”. It’s not worth going home for .5 hours but how about we dive into a projection of that statement. We will use and average of going off on 3 assignments per year at 14 day intervals over the course of a 20 year fire career? What would that look like? It looks like 3*14*.5%*20= 420 hours is the minimum amount of hours you would lose in a 20 year fire career with that theory. Ok now let’s cover the lunch break when on the fire line. If I’m assigned to an incident out on the fire line and take the 30 minute lunch break how would it work.
First there should be a relief resource in place to hold that piece of line.
The employee will need to be in an area that you wouldn’t be required to have safety equipment or in any area where hazard pay would apply. This is where you are frequently told “just because your time stopped doesn’t mean that safety stops”.
Monitoring radio traffic is essential to safety when near the fire line which is why people delivering supplies and non-fire line have to be in communication before leaving camp. This is why just turning off the radio for 30 minutes is out of the question in the fire area.
The logistics of having one travel from their current assignment to a safe location away from the fire line and back once the break has been completed is not really feasible.
I feel that this type of discussion needs to start so that there’s a clear cut picture of what you’re looking at when weighing your options of missing out on family life for a fire assignment. Knowing that you’re acutely going to be compensated for time spend dealing with fire or incident and camp personal will be a huge relief. Most of us do at least to some degree thrive in the fire environment and that sense of excitement keeps us coming back year after year. There is a type of person that is mostly drawn to the line of work that would help another person in need without compensation when it is the right thing to do. But when it comes to paid work I have a bit of a problem with the random assignment of hours when folks are doing the same work in the same area. I also have a problem with administrative jobs getting more hours than the on the ground personal they are supporting. I know that the perception is 10-12 hr days are not that bad. I have talked with more and more captain level employees that are financially stable that don’t think it’s worth being away from family for that amount of overtime. The easy answer is not to go on that type of assignment. Well it’s not that easy when you’re going or not going is making the difference of the module going or not. With people depending on your decision both at home and at work you will need to head out on some assignments for the benefit of your crew.