D.C. Chief Proposes Staffing Cuts, 12-Hour Shifts

Union firefighters in Washington, D.C., are calling the chief’s effort to reduce the size of the department by more than 20 percent absurd.

They’re also not thrilled with his idea to switch from 24-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts, according to a news report published by local radio station WTOP.com.

D.C’s Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe reportedly told the City Council and Mayor Vincent Gray he wants to cut the staff to 1,625 employees by reducing the number of full-time employees by 475 members, according to the radio station’s report.

At the same time, the chief wants to more than double the number of days firefighters work each month by moving from 24-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts.

D.C. firefighters’ union president Ed Smith called the chief’s plan “an absurd idea,” according to the news report.

The fire chief told the mayor and city council his plan would save taxpayers $36 million, but Smith doesn’t believe it.

"I'd like to see the data on that," Smith told WTOP.

By changing the shifts, Ellerbe said he hopes to encourage more firefighters to live closer to the city, according to the station’s report. Currently, less than 25 percent of the department’s members live within the District and some live more than 100 miles away, commuting to as far away as South Carolina, North Carolina and Delaware. That makes it challenging to recall firefighters on short notice in the event of a homeland security emergency, the chief told the council during a breakfast meeting on Wednesday morning.

The department currently has a policy of having its firefighters work 24 hours and then have three days off. The new proposal would have firefighters work three 12-hour days, then have 12 hours off before returning to work three 12-hour night shifts and then have three days off, according to WTOP.com.

According to an article published in a web site blog of  The Washington Post, Ellerbe said the new shift system would increase the number of work days from eight to 22 and add up to 80 firefighters per shift. He also said the system would allow quicker recalls and reduce accidents on the job by firefighters who are working 24 hours straight.

The Post reported that Ellerbe expects resistance from the union as his proposal represents a dramatic change in the way the department operates and the schedule to which firefighters have become accustomed.

There has been no schedule proposed for the changes to occur.