Calgary firefighters say it’s “very frustrating” they’ve been ordered to cease having 24-hour shifts while the pandemic is still going on.
But, the city has said they would change course.
In April last year, Calgary’s fire department switched personnel to 24-hour shifts from their typical 10- or 14-hour shifts. They said it would reduce the potential COVID-19 exposure firefighters would have with each other and with their families.
That’s what’s drawn the ire of the Calgary Firefighters Association. According to VP Matt Osborne, they were told that practice will end March 31.
“This is extremely upsetting. It’s very frustrating, honestly, because COVID-19 isn’t over. The health and safety of firefighters should be a top priority,” Osborne told LiveWire Calgary.
He said firefighters can’t work from home. They must attend calls, each time potentially exposing themselves to COVID-19 and other emerging variants.
Osborne said that by reducing the number of shift changes by 50 per cent this past year, they’ve been able to keep virus spread in check. They’ve also added in measures in their daily work to prevent the spread, Osborne said.
Since the pandemic began, they’ve had approximately 30 firefighters test positive for COVID-19. Another 60 have had to isolate because of potential exposure. There are roughly 1,000 active firefighters.
“We have to do a lot of things to manage our exposure to help flatten the curve, plus keep the public safe,” he said.
City said it will work with firefighters on extension
The 24-hour shift plan has been extended four times over the past year, according to Osborne.
Firefighters are looking for it to be extended again. At least until there’s more certainty around containment of the virus.
The city said that it worked with the firefighters’ union to implement the 24-hour shifts temporarily last year. They said both parties agreed it would end March 31, 2021.
“We have worked closely with IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters) over the last year and the evidence is inconclusive whether the switch to 24-hour shifts has been effective at minimizing the spread of COVID-19,” said Calgary city manager, David Duckworth.
“Nonetheless, after consulting with our Occupational Health and Safety team, and out of an abundance of caution, we will be working with the IAFF to seek agreement to extend the temporary 24-hour shift agreement.”
Duckworth said the health and safety of the public and city employees is the city’s top priority.
Extend until it ‘makes sense’
Osborne said regardless of which shift they get, they’ll still respond to calls like they always do.
It’s the upheaval for their families – childcare, school, pet care – all of that must be changed with a switch. Along with a potential increase in exposure to COVID-19.
He said all they’re asking for is a further extension on the 24-hour shifting until the pandemic continues to wane away.
“Let’s just talk about putting it to a time that makes sense,” he said.
The firefighters did go public with a website pushing for an extension. They said they received 2,400 letters in support after it was launched Tuesday evening.
There’s no indication of how long a potential extension would be.