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Maintaining the Work and Life Balance

Maintaining-the-Work-and-Life-Balance Cover Photo Courtesy: California Fire Foundation

In my fire service career, I have worked many different shift schedules. When I started as a volunteer, I signed up for 24-hour shifts on a Kelly Schedule as a paid reserve. About a year later, I received the opportunity to be a wildland firefighter and transitioned to the 72-hour shift schedule. As a wildland firefighter, I soon discovered what strike team deployments were, which involved chasing campaign fires all over the State of California. The next shift assignment I worked on was a little different, and it was a rotating 12-hour schedule between day-night shifts. My body never knew what time it was, and I learned that I could sleep just about anytime during the day.

My last shift assignment was more common, called the 48/96 schedule, working two straight days in a row. This assignment is known as the “commuter schedule,” and I was indeed a commuter for three years. My residence was three hours one way from my duty station, and this commute made it extremely difficult working in a very busy system. On this schedule, I drove my personal vehicle three hours to work, and I was driving the fire engine for a total of 24-48 hours at work. There were some nights where you were known as the “Sleepless Knights,” and you didn’t get any rest while on duty. I would drive home after my shift and sleep a full day once I got back home.

I am sharing all of these different shift assignments to paint a picture of all the various work schedules one could have in their Fire Service career. In my earlier years as a seasonal wildland firefighter, I would work a whole 28 days in a pay period. This was known as “Blocking out,” a pay period. If you were fortunate, one could block out two pay periods in a row if you were on a lightning siege or a significant campaign fire in Southern California. I met my soon-to-be bride during this schedule and discovered more to life than just being a firefighter.

Over the last seven years I have been married to my bride, I have struggled with maintaining the work-life balance for various reasons. The demands of a public servant are extreme with overtime, shift trades, mandatory training, off-duty community events, union meetings, and of course, vacation - sick coverage. It is extremely easy to pour yourself into the demanding role of a public servant in the fire service. Unfortunately, it is also very easy to let the fire life consume you!

Then life happens with starting a family, and you begin settling down with children. This is when life and its responsibilities sink in. Then you start struggling with this whole work-life balance concept. You want to be at home with your family, and you also want to be a dedicated public servant at the same time. I almost felt like I was living two different lives. One of those lives was at my home residence with my family, and the other life was at the firehouse with my work family.

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