Legislation introduced in the Senate Sept. 24 would enable federal firefighters to swap shifts without incurring penalties, a flexibility that is granted to state and local firefighters but not available on the federal level.
Under current operations, a federal firefighter must take some form of leave to be excused from work hours, even if another employee is willing and able to take their shift.
“Our federal firefighters work tirelessly to help keep our communities safe. But unlike their state and local counterparts, they can’t trade shifts without risking consequences — instead, they are left with the unfair choice of losing out on pay or annual leave if they need to adjust their work schedule,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., one of the Senate bill’s cosponsors, in a news release.
“This bill would correct a decades-long disparity and ensure that federal firefighters can continue serving our communities while balancing their home and work lives.”
According to December 2019 employment data maintained by the Office of Personnel Management, the federal government currently employs over 9,000 feds in the Fire Protection and Prevention job series, predominantly in the Departments of the Army, Air Force and Navy.
Personnel hired under that job series “supervise or perform work to control and extinguish fires, rescue persons endangered by fire and reduce or eliminate potential fire hazards,” according to OPM guidelines.
Bill sponsors noted that flexibilities for such employees are increasingly crucial in times of the coinciding pandemic and wildfire season.
“Recent wildfires plaguing our West Coast remind us of the sacrifices that firefighters make every day on behalf of their fellow citizens,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.
“In times of disaster or emergency, these heroes run toward danger and help those who cannot help themselves. Federal firefighters are always at the ready and prepared to risk their lives to protect both their neighbors and, at times, fellow Americans living far away. But federal firefighters do so without the shift flexibility that state, local and municipal firefighters have — flexibility that allows them to fulfill obligations at home, address their own health, care for their families and much more.”
The legislation already has a companion bill in the House, and both the House and Senate versions of the bills have bipartisan support.