Do Firefighters Sleep at the Station?


Firefighters frequently work shifts that last up to 24 hours, and their workweeks are longer than the average desk worker’s. With so much time dedicated to the job, where does a firefighter lay their weary head when they need a break? Do they only sleep at home, or will they snooze at the fire station?

Firefighters will sleep at the station, in their sleeping quarters, if time allows. When a firefighter is on shift, they’re not necessarily working the whole time, so there might be time to sleep. At any point though, a firefighter could be woken up because their crew needs them.

Ahead, we’ll talk further about when firefighters sleep at the station, how long they sleep, and what their work schedule looks like. There’s lots of great information to come, so make sure you keep reading! 

Why do Firefighters Sleep at the Station? 

Firefighters aren’t always out educating the public about fire safety or combatting house and building fires. In the interim, the firefighters are back at the firehouse waiting until they’re needed again. 

So what can a firefighter do in their downtime? Almost anything they want, including relaxing, eating, or cleaning up. Since they’re on shift, they can’t go home, which means that firefighters will sleep at the fire station.

In fact, I actually made a video of 10 things firefighters do while they’re working (in addition to sleeping). You can see the video here:

The firefighters could get to doze for a while if it’s a slow day or if the crew is large enough that others can combat the fire without that firefighter being needed. If a five-alarm fire breaks out in the center of town though, the sleeping firefighter will be needed immediately.

Yes, this means that realistically, a firefighter could get to sleep for only 10 minutes before they’re roused from their sleep and must get dressed and be on the fire engine in a matter of minutes.

This is something we’ve talked about on the blog before, and it doesn’t only pertain to sleeping. A firefighter could be in the middle of a meal or even using the bathroom and have to abandon what they’re doing immediately. Such is the life of a firefighter. 

Where at the Fire Station Do Firefighters Sleep?

If a firefighter is sleeping at the station–which happens quite often for a lot of them–where can they snooze? 

Fire departments often have dedicated sleeping quarters that will include bunks or single beds for a crew. The sleeping quarters will usually be further back in the building away from the fire engines. Most of the hustle and bustle of the fire station should be blocked off from the sleeping quarters so firefighters can snooze with fewer distractions. 

Affording firefighters sleeping quarters has two benefits. One, they have a reliable, mostly quiet place to rest, and two, the rest of the crew knows where to find the other firefighters when they need to wake them up. 

Now, just because sleeping quarters are available doesn’t always mean a firefighter will use them. If they’re especially bushed, a firefighter could fall asleep in a chair or at a table. Most firefighters will choose the sleeping quarters though! 

Of course, when a firefighter is not working, then they can go home and sleep in their bed just like everybody else does. When they’re scheduled though, going home to sleep is too risky. The firefighter must be close by for when a fire inevitably occurs. 

What Does a Firefighter’s Work Schedule Usually Look Like?

To understand where sleep fits into a firefighter’s schedule, you need to better understand their work hours. This is something I’ve written about on the blog before, so I recommend you check out that post (click here to read more about firefighter schedules and working hours). This section will serve as a recap.

The two work schedules firefighters will adhere to are shifts or days on, then days off. Let’s reacquaint you with both schedules now. 

Shifts

Between the two types of firefighter work schedules, shifts are being phased out more and more. That said, some old-school fire departments might still adhere to them, so we have to discuss shift schedules.

When a firefighter works a shift, they’ll have the same schedule for up to four days in a row. Some fire departments only schedule firefighters for three consecutive days. Since it’s a shift, the firefighter will work set hours during the day, between eight and 12 hours.

Overnight, the firefighters begin working the second part of their shift, which will last anywhere from 12 to 14 hours. 

After four days of that, you can bet the firefighters are tired. They’ll then get three or four days off before repeating the schedule. 

24 Hours On, Then 48 Hours Off

The much more common schedule for fire departments is for a firefighter to work 24 hours in a row. Then the firefighter would go home and rest up for two days before they work another 24 hours and take 48 hours off. 

Firefighters don’t get set weekends off, nor do they get holidays with either work schedule. 

We do want to stress that for both schedules, when we say a firefighter is working, they’re not necessarily out and actively combatting fires. They’re on call and will be at the fire station. 

If you’re interested, I also made a video about firefighter working hours over on the FirefighterNOW YouTube channel. You can watch that here:

How Many Hours of Sleep Do Firefighters Get Per Night?

Whether it’s a shift schedule or a 24-hours-on, 48-hours-off schedule, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for firefighters to sleep. You can’t help but wonder how many hours of sleep a firefighter gets a night.

According to firefighting news source Firefighter Overtime, which is led by long-time firefighter Bill Maccarone, “Department of Labor regulations only allow a maximum of 8 hours sleep time deducted for every 24 hours that a firefighter works.” 

Does that mean a firefighter gets eight guaranteed hours of sleep? No, of course not, especially when they’re on shift.

Firefighters don’t have a set sleep schedule like you might, especially when working. They sleep during their shifts when there’s time to. If that’s during the night, then great. If it’s at three o’clock in the afternoon, then so be it.

In the meantime, the world doesn’t stop. A firefighter must be ready to respond whenever their department gets a call from 911. 

They’ll rarely get eight uninterrupted hours of rest. When a firefighter isn’t working, then they’re free to sleep for as long as they want. It’s their time off and they’re not on call. 

How Do Firefighters Stay Energized to Do Their Jobs?

You can’t go longer than 12 hours of work without being ready to pass out, so you have no idea how a firefighter can work for 24 hours and stay awake. Do they chug a lot of energy drinks between calls or what?

No, as that would be incredibly dangerous. The caffeine in energy drinks raises your heart rate as well as your energy. Plus, within an hour or so, there’s a caffeine crash that a firefighter can’t afford to deal with. 

Instead, many firefighters take what’s referred to as a safety nap. This is just a little power nap rather than sleeping for hours at a time. Maybe the safety nap lasts 20 minutes or perhaps it’s 40 minutes, but it’s short enough. 

You don’t need to nap long to experience benefits. Sleep Foundation says that the longer you sleep during a nap, the groggier you will feel when waking up again. Why is that? Your body is usually still in slow-wave sleep and awakening from that isn’t easy. You could feel tired for around an hour. 

Napping affects your homeostatic sleep drive, which is that pressure you feel to go to bed. Everyone knows what homeostatic sleep drive pressure feels like. Sleep Foundation likens it to a grumbling stomach when you’re hungry or even a full bladder that tells you it’s time to urinate. 

When you reduce or erase homeostatic pressure with a nap, you’ll feel sharper and more alert. According to Sleep Foundation, you might be able to better regulate your emotions and learn more efficiently. You could even build more memories.

Firefighters work for up to 24 hours at a time, but their downtime is spent at the fire station. This time affords them the chance to sleep, although they could be awoken at any time. To stay alert for the rest of their shift, firefighters will often power nap, which is known as safety napping among firefighters.

Between safety napping and sleeping more regular hours when not on schedule, firefighters can maintain their energy to keep doing the integral work they do!

Mike Pertz

I’m Mike, I’m a full time firefighter/paramedic/diver for a department just west of Cleveland, Ohio and the founder of FirefighterNOW. I’m also a columnist for FireRescue1. If you’re reading this blog my guess is you are interested in the fire service. There's information on fitness, gear, interviews, tests and more. I hope you find what you're looking for.

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