Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Iqaluit January 11, 2018 - 1:30 pm

Iqaluit firefighters may soon get healthier work hours

Proposed schedule aimed at creating more sleep time, reducing stress

Iqaluit firefighters could be working fewer nights in a row, once a proposed new work schedule is approved by the city, deputy fire chief Nelson Johnson tells Iqaluit city councillors Jan. 9. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
Iqaluit firefighters could be working fewer nights in a row, once a proposed new work schedule is approved by the city, deputy fire chief Nelson Johnson tells Iqaluit city councillors Jan. 9. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

(Updated 4:30 p.m., Jan. 11)

Iqaluit firefighters may soon see changes to their shift schedules aimed at reducing stress and allowing them to get more sleep.

Firefighters have complained their shift schedules haven’t worked well since 2015, when staff at the emergency services department saw their work schedules changed to reduce overtime costs.

But that could be about to change, Iqaluit’s deputy fire chief, Nelson Johnson, told a city council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 9

“We’ve done the financials, we’ve done the risk assessment. Now it’s time to sit down and look at implementing a schedule that will give a good working schedule, a balance of life,” he said. 

A committee made up of the fire department and the city’s occupational health and safety staff found that sleep debt, or sleep deficit, has been the biggest problem since the scheduling change

An internal risk assessment found that if personnel work less than three nights in a row, there should be no sleep deprivation experienced by firefighters.

Under the system that started in 2015, when Iqaluit firefighters work 40 hours a week on day shift, they work five days with two days off. On evening shift, they work five evenings with two days off.

And on weeks when they’re on night shift, they work five nights with three days off.

Under the previous schedule, emergency staff worked for four days and then had four days off. Of the four days worked, there were two 10-hour day shifts and two 14-hour night shifts.

Johnson said that schedule created 104 extra hours of overtime each year.

That’s why the city made a change to department schedules, to cut out the extra overtime hours built into the old schedule, to help reduce a city-wide financial deficit.

Yet the risk assessment report showed that, while new day and evening schedules were not a problem, the only way to deal with sleep debt among Iqaluit firefighters is to return to a schedule where fewer nights are worked in a row.

“The five nights did have a social impact on their family life, and provided a thing called ‘sleep debt,’ which meant that they needed a couple of days to recuperate back from the night shift.”

Mayor Madeleine Redfern noted that with 17 full-time positions, Iqaluit has more staff firefighters than any other Nunavut community and more than remote areas of the same size in the south.

And the city roster of volunteer firefighters has jumped from just a handful of volunteers to 25 people over the last few years.

As for the full-time staffers, Redfern also pointed out that sleeping on the job is all part of being a firefighter. 

“If they work at night and if there are no calls, it is one of the rare occupations in the city that you can sleep in that evening shift, because there are beds in the fire hall,” she said. 

“They are encouraged to rest,” Johnson said, adding that the department is working to educate employees on getting enough sleep and “how to be what we call ‘fit for duty’ when they come to work.”

But sleeping during a night shift is becoming more difficult for Iqaluit firefighters these days, because emergency calls have doubled over the last three years, and most of those calls come in the evening or at night.

“Back then, our average calls were four calls a day, now they are up to eight calls a day. Most of the calls are now happening in the evenings and in the nights.”

Half of those calls are for medical transfers to the hospital, since the fire department in Iqaluit also operates ambulance services.

Of the remaining calls, 90 per cent are medical-related and only 10 per cent are for fires, Johnson said.

The firefighter schedule was left out of recent negotiations between the city and its unionized workers on a new collective agreement.

But Redfern said this was all part of the plan.

“It’s important to note that the union chose not to have the schedules as part of the collective bargaining negotiations and that the city has actively been working with the fire department members on the schedules,” she said. 

The city and the union are reviewing three new schedule prototypes.

Of those, two were proposed by the city and one by the firefighters.

Each proposed schedule results in cost cutting, while the firefighter’s proposed schedule would require additional money spent, Johnson said, adding that firefighters were open to discussing one of the schedules proposed by the city but not the other.

Coun. Jason Rochon and Coun. Terry Dobbin requested a report to council from city staff on the savings that came from the changed work schedule.

“I have yet to see a cost-savings report from the CAO or the city. All I’ve heard is hearsay that there are substantial savings to the fire department,” Dobbin said. “It’s costing the firefighters extensive grief.”

Rochon, who was surprised by the increase in emergency calls, asked if the city had enough firefighters.

“We’re always left in the dark, it’s very frustrating as a councillor,” he said.

His statement comes after councillors couldn’t tell the public what was being done to fix firefighter schedules at a recent town hall meeting.

Johnson said a single vacancy in the department will soon be filled, and that there are just enough staff to do the work that needs to be done.

But the department must count on volunteers to help the staff, and there are no other departments that can provide assistance during an emergency.

He said wellness is a priority, and the ability to relieve staff during an emergency is needed to reduce their stress and fatigue.

Redfern said the immediate savings to the city after 2015 came from the reduction in overtime hours worked by each staff firefighter.

This version of the story contains information that clarifies the shift schedule that the Iqaluit fire department has used since 2015, clarifies the overtime issue created by the earlier pre-2015 system and the reasons why the newer system produced fatigue and stress among firefighters.

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(16) Comments:

#1. Posted by L'ill Bill on January 11, 2018

” Their schedule interfered with family life” , didn’t do much for their other jobs either.

#2. Posted by Cambay on January 11, 2018

Just fire them all. Every building that catches fire burns to the ground anyways. No need for paid fire fighters. Save the money from salarys to help rebuild.

#3. Posted by Steve on January 11, 2018

@CAMBAY when you need an ambulance who will you call? the fire department does more than fight fires in iqaluit

#4. Posted by annon on January 11, 2018

Lets keep in mind that although we refer to these workers as the Fire Department, 90 percent of their calls are ambulance calls.  The things these people have to see and do daily is extremely stressful.  On a daily basis, these people are exposed to all sorts of horrors and it is very mentally taxing.  There are MANY IFD members on stress leave as a result and all the deputy thinks is the problem is the five night shifts in a row?  This is absolutely unacceptable. There is a reason why 4 days on, 4 days off is a Canadian standard that they just choose to ignore this.  four days off gives EMS workers time to recoup from the extremely horrific things they see every day. Its time a way from a very challenging job.  I feel so bad for the department members. They are so sad all the time and everyone there is on the brink of quitting or going on stress leave.  Poor people. 

Cost saving should come from cutting the fat of upper management. Why are there so many management positions?

#5. Posted by really on January 11, 2018

#4 is correct. 4 days on 4 days off is the standard, not just in Canada, but in the developed world. Nunavut isn’t like the developed world though. It is a like a developing country, satisfied with third world standards.

#6. Posted by Scott on January 11, 2018

If they wanted to save money and force the FF’s to this ridiculous schedule, in 2015, then why did they hire a second Deputy Fire Chief for a Dept of that size, years ago?

I worked for IFD for almost 5 yrs and we did not, in any way, need 1 Fire Chief and 2 Deputy Fire Chiefs.  As a Shift Officer and with the other 3 Shift Officers, the 4 of us were able to manage fine and help the Chief and 1 Deputy Fire Chief.  An extra DC, I’m assuming, salary is probably about $130,000 plus annually, another Command Vehicle and also assuming housing is part of the contract.

Maybe drop the extra DC and go back to the 10’s and 14’s where the FF’s were happier and morale was high.

This article seems like they’re doing a huge favour, for the Brothers and Sisters within IFD but in fact, it was Management that made the last 3 to 4 years a toxic environment within IFD and forced a lot of great veteran Firefighters to leave the department.

#7. Posted by Common on January 11, 2018

How about the whole truth maybe so the tax payers and city residents know how management really are against the firefighters. This schedule changed with no input or heads up 2 years ago. His answer was saving money. The members have crunched the numbers and even attempted to show them to our Chief(s) but he will not accept it. The fact is there isn’t any savings. This schedule has cost the city over 180 000k a year. Just ask to see the numbers and they’ll speak the truth. Why is the Chief hiding the numbers
Yes Scott. Get rid of our 2nd deputy chief. It will save easily 130 000k. What Fire Department with 17 career members Need this many Deputy Chiefs.
What other fire service does 8 hour rotations? None.
Deputy Chief Nelson states in the old 10 and 14 hour schedule, they were paying 104 extra hours per firefighter. He is false. Even though they were entitled to this pay, not 1 firefighter has been given that pay in extra. They haven’t been receiving the extra pay for 10 plus years

#8. Posted by Facts are facta on January 11, 2018

The IFD has lost over 10 staff to the schedule!
The chiefs are to concentrated on trying to fire and discipline the staff instead of helping and resolving situations.
Simple solution, hire a professional agency, since these Chiefs have no idea to run a fire service, for input and follow their suggestions(it was supposed to happen March 2017 but never did)
The chiefs

Also show the money savings.. there isn’t. Admit your wrong dueings and go back to a normal fire department schedule, not a made up one you created (ask any firefighter or fire chief elsewhere in Canada and they never heard of a joke of a schedule and a 5 platoon operation)

Great firefighters (career and volunteer) with great professionalism at IFD. Shame they have poor leaders in the Chiefs

#9. Posted by Show me the numbers on January 12, 2018

We as citizens have a right to see the numbers and savings.  Stop hiding the numbers.  Is there no transparency in government at all???  Fire the second deputy fire chief and operate at the Canadian standard. The department is an embarrassment in its current position. There are many ways to save money that doesn’t involve destroying morale and families. 
When all is said and done and these people reflect on their accomplishments, I hope they realize the devastation and destruction they have caused will be their everlasting legacy.  When these people go into retirement may they remember that their only contribution was destroying their employees lives requiring them to take extended stress leave or quit. How much more will these employees endure???  When is enough, enough?  How do they sleep at night knowing what they have done to single handedly destroy 17 employees lives and their family life?

#10. Posted by Northern Guy on January 12, 2018

#7 while I don’t question that the amended schedules are not the “norm” within the firefighting community; there is a need to clarify one thing. You are clearly obfuscating the overtime issue. Overtime does not have to be paid out as cash to become a liability or cost against the city’s budget. Most OT is taken as lieu time (additional paid leave days) and not as cash. In point of fact, 104 hours of paid leave per firefighter amounts to 1768 hours of overtime or 235 days of additional paid leave (that is an additional 13 plus days of paid leave per salaried firefighter) which the City then has to budget for annually. I understand why Iqaluit’s firefighters are balking at losing such an excellent perk; however as a taxpayer I take exception to funding additional annual leave simply because of the structure of a work schedule!

#11. Posted by exhausted on January 12, 2018

#10…here’s a clear obfuscation for you, the city of iqaluit gets over 1million dollars for the ambulance service, without that, you would not have the benefit of a 24hr fire department.  while you as a tax payer may not want to pay the cost of the service, fine, accept lesser service, because just who do you think is coming to your aid in your time of need? 

and you did take issue to norm by putting it in quotes, if no other fire dept operates this way, it is not normal….it is abnormal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

#12. Posted by Whhatt?? on January 12, 2018

#10 you are WRONG!!!!  It’s concerning to me that you are fudging numbers in your favour and grossly exaggerating.

Lieu time is granted if it does not incur over time.  If the line is staffed at the minimum (three for example) and there are five on a line, it means a firefighter is able to take their lieu time, costing the department ZERO dollars.

The department is struggling to stay fully staffed because of the horrendous working conditions and no one wants to stay whether they are new staff or veterans.  Look at the turn over in the last 28 months. You have lost more staff in those months than the last 10 years combined.  No coincidence. New guys and vets do not want to work under those conditions.

Lieu if granted appropriately with appropriate staffing would lost the department ZERO!!!!!  The guys are constantly working OT non stop because you can’t keep an employee. This is concerning as a tax payer

#13. Posted by transparency on January 12, 2018

so it seems an issue several years in the making is finally coming to light.  so the question begs, is the city and council interested in best practices, quality service delivery, and ensuring their dept heads are managing at or within current industry specific norms?  or are they just interested in circling the wagons, burn out their people to save an as yet unproven buck?

noticeably absent in all this is any word from an actual firefighter.  why is that?  where is a firefighter on the record discussing the union stand on this?  cld it be fear of reprisals?

the mayor seems to have an defensive stance why?  if she has time to talk to 30 fire dept and she doesnt have time to talk directly to the men and women one floor down?
either call an immediate meeting with the firefighters, in public, or get a third party to fully investigate the operation.  truth will always come out…usually after something bad happens, but the truth always comes out.

#14. Posted by Northern Guy on January 13, 2018

OT paid out as lieu time was, is and always shall be a liability or cost to the city’s budget and a benefit to the individual firefighter. The Mayor was pretty clear that the original 4 on 4 off schedule resulted in 104 hours of OT for each salaried firefighter. OT required as a result of service demands is okay however OT paid out because of the structure of the work schedule isn’t. Nor is this a service delivery issue as others have claimed here.

#15. Posted by Lol on January 13, 2018

Northern guy… the 104 hours were never paid!!!!  The guys worked it for free. SO maybe the guys should be looking for back pay for the last 20 years since this is how long some of the guys have been working the 104 hours extra without compensation…. something the mayor didn’t make clear nor the deputy.

AND you’re still not acknowledging the firefighters can take these extra hours as time off…. just like other shift workers do in Iqaluit like justice and the hospital costing the employer zero.

#16. Posted by Respectfully on January 14, 2018

This story has more holes than Swiss cheese!!

Simple answers.. talk to the firefighters who currently work with the Fire Service, and see their faces and emotions. They have families and lives here jn Iqaluit. Why doesnt their Chiefs care? Get the whole truth about this situation instead of pieces.

It doesn’t save money. The numbers have been crunched but yet they still won’t show them. Why?

No need to hire a contractor and waste more City money. Anyone can look up a fire service schedule.. or look at the Nurses and Corrections staff here. They work 4 on 4 off and have no fincial issues… but yet a 8 hour schedule causing thousands upon thousands of dollars with fatigue, and other working issues..

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