Do Firefighters Have a Lot of Free Time?

Most people have probably wondered at some point if firefighters have a lot of downtime and what they do in their free time while on a shift. If you’re thinking about becoming one, it’s probably even more likely that your thoughts have landed on these kinds of topics a time or two.

So, what’s the answer? Do firefighters have a lot of free time? Yes, there can be a lot of free time as a firefighter. However, as it goes for many of these types of questions, that “yes” is dependent on many factors. Here are some factors we’re going to discuss further that have an effect on how much free time firefighters have:

  • Location of the fire station
  • Population of the surrounding area
  • Staffing of the fire house
  • Politics in the locale

Now let’s dive a little deeper into these areas to see how they affect the firefighters’ free time.

Do Firefighters Have a Lot of Free Time?

Location of the Fire Station

When we say that the location of the fire station can affect how much free time the firefighters may have, what we mean is that there are some types of environments that could be more prone to a fire risk and other kinds of emergencies.

You may be well aware that fighting fires is not the only job of a firefighter. Today’s firefighters do much more than put out fires. They do everything from saving dogs stuck in drain pipes, to helping someone having a heart attack, to pulling people out of wrecked cars. They will climb buildings, dive into water, squeeze into crawl spaces, or wherever else they need to go to do what needs to be done in countless kinds of situations.

Let’s look at some examples of locations that may cause the firefighters in that area to have less free time.  

Highly urban areas

Areas where there are a lot of structures packed together in relatively small spaces are more likely to have actual fire emergencies that spread and get to a level where help is needed. There is also a higher likelihood that there are more materials, chemicals, and accelerants in urban areas.

You’ll have a higher chance of other kinds of emergencies, too, because of the presence of more equipment, more structures, more vehicles, etc. You get the picture. There’s more of most accident-causing things so there are more emergencies for firefighters to respond to.

Recreational areas

These are places people go to do fun, adventurous, and sometimes, dangerous activities. Anywhere there is hiking, climbing, and biking could be considered one of these. Also, regions people go to ski and snowboard would fall into this category. Dirt bike tracks, sports arenas, adventure parks, and more.

The risk at these locations isn’t about fire, but about injuries, accidents, and other kinds of emergencies.

Wildfire regions

If you’re looking at being a firefighter in an area with high wildfire danger, then you can bank on not having a lot of free time when the wildfire season hits.

High flood risk regions

Places where there is a lot of rain, either gradually or within a rainy season where it dumps quickly leading to flash flooding, could leave firefighters in that area with little free time.

These aren’t the only kinds of areas that could cause firefighters to be busier, but they are some good examples of what we’re talking about here.

Do Firefighters Have a Lot of Free Time?

The Population of the Surrounding Area

The population of the town or city the fire station is located in or around will affect how busy those firefighters are, also. Just as we mentioned with regards to the highly urban area, more of something can cause more emergencies to happen. More people means more risk of accidents, fires, and emergencies.

The more people there are within a neighborhood, the more likely it is that someone causes a house fire. Similarly, the more people there are in a given area, whether it be an office park, a military base, a university, or any other type of installation, the more likely it is that someone suffers a health-related emergency.

Car accidents are one of the unfortunate areas where we’re seeing growth in the number of them that occur. You’ve likely driven by several wrecks where you noticed a fire truck at the scene. The more people living in the area, the more vehicles there are on the roads, and in turn, the more car accidents that take place. Thus, more firefighter responses, as well.

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Staffing of the Fire House

This one is a little different, but certainly worth mentioning. Cities are experiencing a shortage of firefighters across the country. It’s not necessarily because no one wants to take the job. The problem is usually funding. There are many budget problems being faced by cities and towns, which means the fire departments are understaffed. When that happens, the men and women in those departments become over-worked and get little to no free time.

Do Firefighters Have a Lot of Free Time?

When you’re one of only a few people working, you have to go on every call that comes in. That can mean no free time, which also means no sleep time. Some firefighters have been forced to work mandatory overtime while having to respond to call after call after call because there simply isn’t anyone else to relieve them.

Politics in the Locale

What do we mean by this? Well, it could mean a number of things. For instance, in some areas, people will call for an ambulance (which often come from fire departments) so that they can, basically, line jump at the emergency room. If the area where the fire department is located is one where there are many people but few ERs, then you’ll see more of this and there will be less free time for those working in those fire stations.

The budget issues we mentioned above are another part of the political problems that fire departments face. If they’re not given the money to pay staff members, then there will be fewer firefighters to go around. Schedules will be changed and stretched, overtime will be forced onto team members, and there were will be less free time for those individuals.

Another part of this is referred to as the “rotating brownout” strategy. This is where the local governments attempt to save money by “browning out,” or temporarily shutting down, specific firehouses. That puts more pressure and work on the departments that are still open in the area, thus leading to less free time for firefighters working in those fire stations. This strategy is very controversial. There are many who argue that it puts, not only regular citizens at increased risk but also the firefighters working in the busier departments.

A Typical Firefighter’s Schedule

Generally, firefighters will work long shifts. Not long like 10 or 12 hours, most of the time career firefighters are on for 24 hours, or more. You also won’t find schedules that are Monday through Friday with weekends off. Weekends and holidays are all working days when it comes to employment in a fire department.

One of the most popular schedules is 24 hours on and 48 hours off. The idea is to give these first responders as normal of a sleeping schedule as possible. Some of the smaller departments will sometimes go with an 8- or 12-hour shift schedule, but that’s not the norm for the firehouses in the larger cities.

You’ll actually see some departments that have firefighters work for a few days in a row before having three or four days off. They may work a couple of days for 12 hours, then a few overnights before they get their chunk of time off.

It’s important to understand, too, that working a shift and being on call is not the same thing. You may have times as a firefighter when you are on call but not actually on a shift. If you never get called on while you’re on call so you do no duties, you won’t be eligible for compensation. However, if you are working a shift, but no calls come in during that shift, you will still get paid for your time.

Wrap Up

Firefighters can have a lot of free time, but they don’t always. There are some different factors that can make it where the team members of certain departments have less free time than others. It often depends on the location of the fire station, the population in the area, the staffing in the department, and various political issues in that area.

Some shifts may also be busier than others based on the time of year, events taking place, weather incidents, along with other factors. Regardless of what department firefighters are working in, it is important for them to have ample free time due to the stressful nature of their jobs.

Do Firefighters Have a Lot of Free Time?

Related Questions

What do firefighters do when they’re not fighting fires?

There are many other emergencies that firefighters respond to outside of putting out fires. The majority of the calls they’re responding to these days are medical in nature—treating sick or injured people who need help. They may also complete additional training, write reports on calls they responded to, or help clean up hazardous spills.

Do firefighters live at the fire station?

They don’t actually live at the station on a full-time basis. They do often live in the firehouse when they’re on shift. If they serve 24-hour or more shifts, they will live in the station for the hours of the shift, sleeping there, cooking there, eating there, and training there.

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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.