Why 4 Naperville firefighters switched off 24-hour shifts
Four firefighter/paramedics in Naperville started working eight-hour shifts this week as part of a staffing plan designed to get more people on duty when they're needed most.
The typical firefighter's hours are 24 hours on the job, 48 hours off, and that's not changing at the large Naperville department, which operates 10 stations with a daily minimum of 42 firefighter/paramedics on the job.
But now four of the department's members are working 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday in what Chief Mark Puknaitis calls a "power shifting" program. The shift transfers personnel into the daytime, when Naperville's population spikes with workers, and when Puknaitis said the department fields 54 percent of its 14,600 annual calls.
With more than half of all calls coming during one eight-hour span, Puknaitis said it makes sense to increase the staff, while still keeping the union-negotiated minimum of 42 on hand during the other 16 hours of each day.
"This is a benefit. The department is not losing staffing," he said. "We're just putting them in those boxes that make sense for the city."
On Monday, the first day three senior firefighters and one new hire worked from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Puknaitis said the department fielded an unusually busy 50 calls. The new staffing allowed the department to run two additional ambulances, better spreading out emergency medical help throughout the sprawling city of 40 square miles and 147,800 residents.
On the first day the power shift was in place, Puknaitis said he got three voicemails from other departments looking to learn about the approach. Especially because he was named president of the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association, Puknaitis thinks the idea will have legs.
"This is going to be a very contagious issue for other fire departments," he said, "in a positive way."
President John Sergeant of the Naperville Professional Firefighters Local 4302 said members may want the 40-hour workweek to attend more kids' events or family holidays, or to take a break from the bodily demands of working 24 hours straight.
"I'm pretty assured we'll be able to keep these spots full," Sergeant said.
Those accepting the eight-hour shifts will make a one-year commitment. Those with most seniority will be given priority each year during a union bidding process for who will fill the spots.
The new staffing plan is not designed to cut costs but to keep them stable. The four firefighters switching to the shifted hours will continue to be paid their regular salaries.
"We know that having the same number of employees on the clock for 24 hours straight isn't optimal, and we also know service cuts or increasing overtime isn't right for our community," Puknaitis said. "By having four employees transition to this schedule, we meet our need for service when it is greatest without incurring additional costs."