GREAT LAKES, Ill. (CBS) — Naval Station Great Lakes on Thursday addressed a complaint that the the federal fire department tasked with keeping the naval base safe is stretched dangerously thin.
In an email to CBS 2’s Tara Molina, naval station public information officer John Sheppard wrote that the station must provide the safest workplace possible for its firefighters and emergency personnel while ensuring mission readiness.
Brian Pagliaroni – a Great Lakes firefighter, paramedic, and president of the IAFF Local F-37 – said earlier this week that most federal firehouses have recently adopted an Alternative Work Schedule that allows firefighters and first responders more rest periods in between shifts. But he said Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, the division of the Navy to which Great Lakes belongs, is one of few federal firefighting regions that have not changed their schedule.
In addition to firefighters at Great Lakes, six members of Congress – including Illinois’ 10th District Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Illinois) – sent Navy Region Mid-Atlantic a letter taking issue with its scheduling practices for firefighters.
Great Lakes’ Sheppard said that Navy Region Mid-Atlantic has considered alternative schedules and is still doing so. Longer shifts such as 48 hours on and 48 off can result in improved job satisfaction, but can indeed cause issues such as “firefighter fatigue, higher injury rates, higher vehicle accident rates, and other undesirable outcomes that potentially affect readiness,” Sheppard wrote.
Pagliaroni said fatigue was just the problem many Great Lakes firefighters are suffering from.
“It’s hard to basically do a job when you are mentally drained,” he said earlier this week. “When you’re on 16 calls a day, there’s no rest… it’s not safe. At all.”
He said often times, firefighters at Great Lakes working five days in a row, 120 hours straight to make up for the number of people who’ve left and are gearing up to leave.
Sheppard acknowledged that “while rare,” some firefighters do work extended overtime hours – particularly in the summer during peak vacation periods, or periods when there might be unforeseen injuries or when firefighters who are also reservists have responsibilities with the military.
Pagliaroni said the Great Lakes Fire Department is 12 people short, with more headed out the door. Sheppard wrote that Great Likes Fire & Emergency Services is authorized 51 fire department personnel and currently has 42 on board – with nine open.
One open position is a fire inspector, which will be filled this month, Sheppard wrote. Candidates have been selected and are in the onboarding process for three other positions, Sheppard wrote.
That leaves only five open positions, which the Great Lakes Fire Department is working to get filled, Sheppard wrote.
“DoD firefighter and police vacancies are our top priority at the region and take precedence over the hiring of other DoD positions,” Sheppard wrote. “The goal is to over hire for first-responder positions.”
Sheppard advised that Navy Region Mid-Atlantic Fire and Emergency Services is hiring and accepting resumes for qualified firefighters. The resumes can be sent to DirectHireFire@Navy.mil.