- Associated Press - Thursday, August 13, 2015

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - Some firefighters working for the Navy in Hampton Roads say a staffing shortage is forcing them to work mandatory overtime that is exhausting them.

The Virginian-Pilot reports (http://bit.ly/1PmQEH8 ) that local firefighters report working shifts of 72 or 96 hours straight with just a 24-hour break.

“It’s just about as bad as I’ve seen it, and I’ve been doing this a long time,” said Charles Ruby, a government firefighter for 22 years. Ruby worked at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach for 12 years and is now a vice president of the Hampton Roads branch of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Union leaders say their members are suffering under the schedules and that complaints to their civilian and Navy bosses have not yielded results.

The Navy says there are 30 vacancies on what is supposed to be a civilian force of 349 in the region, but union representatives say there are between 40 and 60 unfilled slots.

The Navy disputes that morale is low and says it is working to fill vacancies.

“There are steps already under way in both the recruitment and selection process to fill vacancies,” said Wendy Snyder, a Navy Installations Command spokeswoman said. “Region fire chiefs and HR offices have initiated the process to fill all vacant fire and emergency service positions, and we have developed an enterprise-wide strategy to priority-fill fire and emergency services positions across the Navy.”

Omarr Dickens, a former volunteer firefighter who joined the local Navy force six years ago, has decided to take a job as a federal firefighter in San Diego, in part, because conditions have become untenable.

“I am definitely fed up with everything going on here,” Dickens said. “The biggest issue really is that we are short-staffed - and the long hours. It’s not good for the body, not good for the mind.”

The local force is on a schedule of 24 hours on, 24 hours off, with a three-day break once every two weeks. Union officials have asked management to consider a schedule of 48 hours on, 72 off so that even if someone picks up an extra shift, that person is still able to get time off between shifts

However, not all the members want less overtime, said Robert Tignor, a captain at the Oceana fire house. There’s a small minority, he said, who welcome as much extra pay as they can get.

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Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com

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