- Associated Press - Monday, January 27, 2020

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Emergency operators in a Maryland county are switching to a 24-hour shift schedule in hopes the change will ease fatigue.

Starting Thursday, operators will work 24 hours and then have 72 hours off, Anne Arundel County Fire Chief Trisha Wolford told the Capital Gazette. She said operators were looking for new shifts because working two 10-hour shifts during the day followed by two 14-hour shifts at night made it difficult to maintain proper sleep schedules.

“The operators said (they) want to come off of 10s and 14s. They said they can’t get a sleep pattern and are exhausted,” Wolford said.

Wolford said the move could help with operator retention. The change was put to a vote and was “passed overwhelmingly,” said Mike Akers, president of AFSCME Local 582.

The new shift structure would give workers an hour break during the day and a five-hour break at night. In addition to a lounge area and a workout room, there are beds available for operators to take a nap.

But some are worried that switching to a 24-hour shifts will present problems both in stress and overtime costs.

Officials said each four-day rotation will require seven overtime shifts to meet minimum staffing. While overtime is welcomed by some employees, the possibility of working a 24-hour shift and then being held into another shift is possible, Wolford said. Department staffers would attempt to find relief as soon as possible.

Wolford said taxpayers won’t be paying for overtime. Since she is short-staffed, the funds for the seven positions available will cover the overtime cost. Several people are being trained for the new positions.

Wolford said shes determined to give the shift change a chance if that is what operators want.

“Let’s try this for them,” Wolford said. “It does not mean we can’t go back. … Our operators really are the first of the first responders. They really are the unsung heroes of public safety.”

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