Thursday, February 4, 2010

I'd'd rather have a sister working in a brothel, than a brother working on "A" shift.

Years ago, the Kinda Big Fire Protection District had two shifts or platoons. Titled "A" shift and "B" shift, they worked some weird schedule that had them working 48 hrs. on duty, then 24 hrs. off, followed by 24 hrs. on and then a couple of days off.

Through time, the district grew as did the communities we served. As a result, call volume increased, as did the types of incidents that we respond to. Through negotiations with the district, The Firefighter's Association was able to reduce the number of hours we were required to work. The process was gradual, with small reductions occurring every few years until we arrived at the 56 hr. per week schedule that we have today.

At some point in this process, the district realized that they needed to go from a two platoon staffing system to a three platoon system. This was before my time, but a lot of the senior firefighters who were on the job when I came on remembered the two platoon system and the switch to three shifts.

Shift culture is a unique phenomenon. Apparently, back in the two platoon system days, A shift was known for having a little more dynamic leadership than B shift. As a result they were allegedly a little better trained and had a little more initiative. Typically, from what I've been told, more A shifters were made District Commanders and Captain's than B shifters.

When the KBFPD made the transition to three platoons, it caused a lot of new people to be hired. The district did not want to have all of the new captains, engineers  and firefighters all on one shift, so they pulled folks from A and B shift and thus C shift was born.

Again, I wasn't there, but I am guessing that the District Commanders who were left on A shift and on B shift didn't want to let their best and brightest people go over to the new shift. In fact, I am willing to bet that this became an opportunity to get rid of some headaches. Thus, C shift culture was born.

I am also speculating that as A shift was able to get rid of their problem children, their self image improved even more.

When I started in the early 80's A stood for Anal retentives (actually a more crude version of that term),  B stood for 'Bout where they need to be and C stood for Clown fish or Clown Shift.

A shift's reputation was enhanced by the leadership style used by their District Commanders. They brought in their top people and formed very strong social and professional bonds. The D.C.s also fed them lots of propaganda about how good they were. Some very strong A shift captains were promoted to District Commanders and somehow managed to work their way back to A shift. They perpetuated the A shift management style, which by the way, worked very well for them. If the A shift leadership liked you, life was good. If not, life on A shift was not so good. I was fortunate.

The other two shifts took a dim view of some of the A shift principles. To them, it appeared to be an clique based on favoritism compounded by attitude issues. They grew tired of A shift continually telling them how good they were, especially after A shift lost a few big fires that they should have caught. I referred to it as the "A Shift Superiority Complex".

There was a little animosity in more than a few of the stations, some escalated into shift wars. That wasn't good for anybody.

Over time, the three shifts have been diluted so that most of the issues that were present in the 70s and 80s have largely dissipated. However, in a few stations, vestiges of the cultural differences remain. It still drives some of the B and C shift captains a little crazy, but I think it may be more personality driven rather than cultural.

Although the "A Shift Superiority Complex" may have worked well for A shift, I don't think the district as a whole benefited from it. If the entire leadership of the KBFPD was ever wiped out and there was no one left to be chief but me, the above situation would be one I would watch out for and take steps to mitigate.

Thanks for reading,


  1. Amazing how that post is true for so many fire brigades and other non-fire workplaces (ABC shift system) across the country today. One would think that in today's day and age, those very same attitudes and practices wouldn't exist....sadly it does. Thanks, great post.

  2. Capt Schmoe:

    The deal sounded like an expansion draft for a new sports team. What is a new sports team but other people's misfits and leftovers, along with a lot of rookies? How long does it take an expansion team to stop being an expansion team? In the NFL, the Panthers and Jaguars are already well respected. How many years, tho, did it take the New Orleans Saints to get good and get respected (they joined the NFL in 1967)?

    The Jags and the Panthers took pains to build their teams in considered ways to avoid the traps of being expansion franchises, learning lessons from the Saints (and others). I think you are right on the button for saying that this is something you have to watch out for, and plan for.

    The Observer

    P.S.: Go Saints!