Fire Life Update

It's time!  Time for the update on how the whole fire life thing is going and answer some frequently asked questions about how it all works.

Since the last update, John is an actual firefighter now, no more academy!  Well, as you can see his helmet still says Candidate (if you've watched Backdraft, they lie - no one calls them Probies here.  That would be for 'probationary firefighters' and that's not what they are here, they're only ever called Candidates), but he's still a full-fledged firefighter, the candidate sticker comes off one year after graduation.

The day before graduation, his class got assigned to their houses, by random lottery.  He lucked out with a firehouse close to home, but of course it's not busy because we're on the north side.  He ended up getting started right away, just a couple of days after graduation.  That was in February, so he's been working about 5 months now.

All firehouse have an engine and most have an ambulance, but some houses also have a truck.  The difference?  Engines pump water.  Basically.  John's on what's consider the truck at his house, but it's specifically a tower ladder.  There's only 10 in the whole city, so he likes that, and their territory is much bigger than what the engine at his house has to cover.  They get called for working fires, and pretty much only get called for medical runs if the engine and ambulance are busy.  If you're wondering the difference, the tower ladder is a bigger version of a firetruck and it's the one that has the big bucket at the end of the huge ladder sitting on top of the truck.

The fire schedule is referred to as 24 on, 48 off.  That means John works 24 hours (around 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. the next day) and then is off for 48.  Therefore, there are 3 shifts, for each of those 24 hour time slots.  John works with the same guys on his shift (he's 2nd shift) and then those guys are relieved by the 3rd shift, who are then relieved by 1st shift, and then John comes back in.  However, there's also something called a Daley Day, after Mayor Daley.  Other cities call them a Kelly Day, coincidentally also after a Chicago mayor.  A Daley Day is the 5th working day of your shift - every 5th day you're scheduled to work, you have off, meaning you have 5 days off in a row.  Essentially it's so the city doesn't have to pay overtime.

It works like this: John works Monday (day 1.)  Off Tuesday, Wednesday, works Thursday (day 2.)  Off Friday, Saturday, works Sunday (day 3.)  Off Monday, Tuesday, works Wednesday (day 4.)  Off Thursday, Friday and then should work Saturday, but since that's day 5, it's a Daley Day and he has that off.  He also has off the 2 days after, just as if he had gone in, and therefore doesn't go back to work again until Tuesday.  Each guy on his shift has a different Daley Day scheduled (Randy is off day 1, Trish is off day 2, etc.) so there's always 4 guys there on his truck.  Make sense?

Another fun thing about the schedule is something called furlough, which is 21 days off in a row.  Isn't that crazy?  How many you get is based on how much you worked the previous year, so if you work full time like the schedule I just mentioned, for a full year, you get three furloughs.  Yes, 3 separate occasions of 21 days off in a row.  If you're doing the math, let me help you - firefighters end up working about 94 days a year.  Since John was in the academy last year, he only earned one furlough this year, which he'll be taking the first 3 weeks of November.  You find out in December/early January when your furloughs are for the year, and they're based on seniority.  You can request various times but the higher ranked guys get their picks first and they tend to request summers off, which is why John's is in November.  We don't care, we'll take it!

He loves it, but wishes it were busier.  His house is on the north side of Chicago, where bad things don't happen very often.  South and west is where they shoot each other and light things on fire on purpose (facts.)  He has gotten small fires, broken a few doors and windows, but hasn't had to save anyone.  Well, he did revive a mail carrier who had a heart attack on the sidewalk, but he hasn't saved anyone from a fire.  He would like to transfer to a busier house someplace on the west side, but there are no transfers for new guys for at least a year, and retirements and transfers are only in January and July, so he's at this place until next summer regardless.  He does like the guys he works with and the guys who are there at the same house but on the engine and the ambulance.  The neighborhood is easy to get to (he got lucky with a firehouse close to home) and it's probably a place he'd like to move back to once he's older, right before forced retirement at 63, but for now it's just not as busy and exciting as he wants.  He would like to be part of the mayday squad, which is the group of guys that only ever go in when a fellow firefighter is lost or trapped, anywhere in the city.  In order to make that squad, he has to have tons of hands on fire time as well as take courses in things like bombs and diving.  He can't get the fire time he needs at this house.

I like the fire schedule and fire life, it's been good so far.  The schedule doesn't bother me, and I love that I can plan literally the rest of forever since that shift business never changes - really, ask me if John is working on Thanksgiving 8 years from now, I could tell you.  I have no issues with him being gone for 24 hours at a time, probably because I'm a naturally independent person, plus I have Hawkeye!  I have my own job and life and things to take care of, so it's really not an issue to not have him home all the time.

I don't have other 'fire wife' friends, like a lot of firefighters' families do, but that's probably because we've always lived in Chicago, so our families are here as well as most of my own friends.  Nothing about that part of my life has had to change.  I think it's harder for people who have kids, but that's a nonissue for us so I don't feel the need to have other fire life friends who 'get it.'

People ask me if I worry about him but no.  I did when he was in the academy but now I've learned more about it.  As long as you listen to instructions, you'll be okay - it's been many years since a Chicago firefighter death and the last one that happened was because he wasn't following orders.  Obviously I have no worries at his quiet house, but I don't have any worries if he moves over to the mayday squad either.  Train well, listen to your boss, it'll be okay.  Serious injuries are another thing - those still happen, and often.  I do worry about that, but what can you really do, right?  The biggest worry is terror attacks.  343 firefighters died on 9/11, and that number would have been higher in Chicago because CFD has a no man left behind rule - no one leaves the building until your whole company leaves the building.  I try not to think about it.

That's about it, as far as the comments and questions that have come up most often.  If you have any other questions, ask me in the comments and I'll do my best to answer!