I get asked frequently if we, as firefighters, are able to sleep at the station. People also ask where do firefighters sleep? This article should answer all of your questions about firefighters sleeping at the station.
Firefighters do (sometimes) sleep at the station or firehouse. Stations usually are equipped with sleeping quarters, but depending on how busy the firefighters are, they may not have time to sleep while on duty.
In this article, we will take a look at all the factors that determine whether or not firefighters get to sleep while on duty, as well as how the stations are set up for sleep. You may be surprised to see how and why all these factors can make sleeping at the fire station very different, from one place to another.
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Do They Sleep at the Firehouse?
Firefighters are usually given the space and time to get some rest while at work, though that can depend on a variety of factors. Most stations are built with some type of sleeping quarters and the firefighters are usually allowed to attempt to sleep at night.
I say attempt because they are obviously still expected to respond to any emergency calls and may not have any opportunities to sleep.
From my research and experience, though there may have been a time when firefighter’s daily workload allowed for relaxing, playing cards, and frequent naps, those days are long gone. Over the past 30+ years, firefighters have become much more a jack-of-all-trades and are expected to do a whole lot more than just put out fires when called.
In fact, fighting fires makes a pretty small portion of the calls run at most fire departments.
INTERESTING FACT: Over 70% of the calls Fire Departments run these days, in most areas, are EMS or Emergency Medical Service related calls.
The daily workload of a firefighter can include:
- Equipment check-offs and maintenance
- Station cleaning and upkeep
- Training and drills to maintain and develop skills needed to respond to a variety of calls
- Business and/or residential fire safety inspections,
- Public education
- Fire prevention
And all of these responsibilities come second to any emergency calls. This means that Firefighters are usually much too busy to be doing a lot of sleeping, at least during the day.
The where, when and how much (if any) of sleeping at the firehouse can vary widely depending on:
- Shift schedules
- When the station was built (age of the building)
- Call volume (how many emergency calls) of that particular department or station.
What Is the Shift Schedule Like?
Firefighters don’t work the normal 9-5, Monday through Friday schedule (obviously). Firefighters and other emergency service workers need to be ready to respond at any time of day or night, year-round.
This means that every fire station needs someone on duty at all times. The way different departments handle their staffing can vary. This can affect whether or not firefighters are able or even allowed to get any sleep while on duty.
The most common schedule seems to be some variation of a 24-hour shift, with different rotating days on and off. In this case, departments usually are set up to allow the firefighters on duty to sleep during the night, but if they actually get any sleep will depend on how many calls (also called runs in some departments) they get at night.
However, there are some departments that work a shift schedule that is split between day and night shifts (8-14 hour shifts at a time). In these cases, they may be expected to be up all night when they are working the night shift (similar to other professions working the graveyard shift), and may not even have a sleeping area at the station.
This is not always the case and from what I have found, it seems to be the exception. I have read that this day and night schedule is used by some very busy departments with high call volume, to keep the firefighters fresh and able to perform at their best, when called upon to respond so frequently.
There are quite a few other ways a firefighter’s schedule can be set up. Everything from an 8-hour day shift, up to 72-hour normal shift. These don’t even take into account overtime (sometimes referred to as callback), which depending on the department’s current staffing, can be mandatory and quite frequent.
It’s not uncommon for firefighters to regularly work 4-5 days straight. From what I have found, any department with shifts 24 hours or longer, will give the firefighters a place to sleep, but whether or not they get to use it will really depend.
If you want to learn more about all the different firefighter shift schedules, read: What Schedule Do Firefighters Work? Shift Schedules Examined
When the Station Was Built?
You might be wondering how the date the fire station was built has any effect on firefighters’ sleep? It has to do with where firefighters sleep and the layout of the station. Most of the stations that were built in the past have a group dorm set-up, very similar to a military barracks.
Usually a large room with a bunch of beds, sometimes Murphy-bed style (pull-down from the wall), cots or even bunk beds. Many of these open dorm-style rooms have been retrofitted with partition walls to give a small amount of space and privacy to the on-duty firefighters. Even though these walls are a visual block, they do nothing to block any sound (snoring, haha)!
From what I have seen, the majority of newer fire stations have separate/individual bunk rooms. These rooms are usually shared with firefighters on other shifts (so you don’t ever sleep in the same room), but allow a little more privacy and a chance to get some better sleep.
How Busy Is the Department?
Although all the other factors can affect where and how firefighters are able to sleep, the number of emergency calls they get is the biggest thing that determines whether or not they actually do get to sleep at all. This can vary drastically not just from one department to the next, but also from one day to the next.
There are slower fire stations that may frequently sleep all night and many other very busy stations that are up all day and night, almost every shift. It seems, like most things, that the majority is somewhere in between.
I work for a department that is neither slow nor extremely busy. We occasionally get to sleep through the night, but most nights, we are woken up 1-3 times for emergency calls.
And although some departments may never get a chance to sleep at all, the broken sleep we get most nights on duty, definitely takes it’s toll on your mind, body, and even on your family while off duty.
However, this is what we signed up and get paid for; to be there for our citizens, whenever they need our help. We do the best we can to be rested and ready to work, but you should never hear any firefighters complain about being asked to do our job.
The “Safety Nap”
The term “Safety Nap”, is something I learned in the Firehouse. The idea behind the “Safety Nap” is that, when the daily schedule allows for it, to take a short nap (sometimes called a power nap) during the day.
This can allow firefighters to remain sharp and able to better perform under the pressure of an emergency call, and therefore “be safer”. It can also act to prevent some of the fatigue that may be caused by not sleeping much or at all the upcoming night. Whether or not this is even allowed, will vary from one department to the next.
Here is an article on WebMD.com that talks about many of the positive effects of power naps on alertness, motor performance, sleep deprivation, and stress reduction. All of these are very important for firefighters to be always ready to respond.
If you want to take advantage of the effects of power naps, I really recommend blackout curtains or an eye mask to block out the light and something to mask or quiet the sounds around you.
There is a really cool product called the Wrap-a-Nap that takes care of both of those and allows for a much better nap experience. Firefighter recommended!