Firefighter Tardiness: How It Impacts Operations

by | October 4, 2021

The fire service has seen many adjustments over the past decade. One of the most noticeable is the change in hiring patterns. Many new recruits have no experience in the emergency services and come from diverse employment backgrounds. While this can be great for pushing the fire service forward, it is not without its pains when it comes to attendance and tardiness. If a new member has only worked in jobs where nobody is any “worse for the wear” if they get to work right on time or cruise in a minute or two late, they may not really understand the gravity of being late to the fire station.

Consider the following scenario:

Shift change is at 0700. You look at the clock as you’re pulling into the station parking lot. It’s 0702. Two minutes isn’t too big of a deal, you say to yourself as you park the car. But, as you walk into the station, the engine rolls out the door on a call without you. The person you are supposed to relieve shoots you a look that is anything but friendly. Again, you think to yourself, “That firefighter hasn’t liked me since I got assigned here, so what’s one more issue?”

In the fire academy, it is usually drilled into new recruits that arriving 15 minutes early is the equivalent to being on time and arriving right at shift change is late. It seems simple enough. But why is that the case?

Operational Impacts

Part of it has to do with operations. When you show up early, you have time to check out your gear and equipment, get it on the rig, and get ready for the shift. Plus, your officer knows you’re there, so they can work out things like rig assignments, fill-ins to other stations, and daily activities. This also gives you a chance to talk with the off-going crew to find out what’s been happening since your last shift. If there’s been an issue with something in the station or on the rig, you’ll know about it before it causes a problem for your shift.

Being known as someone who races the bell every shift yet expects to get relieved on time isn’t really good for your reputation.

Besides the immediate impact of having to cover your spot until you arrive at work, other operational issues can arise if you’re late. Your crew may be forced to work with someone with whom they are unfamiliar. This can cause anything from minor confusion on a medical call to an accountability problem on a structure fire.

Personal Impacts

While the impact to operations is the reason the department wants you to be ready to work as soon as your shift begins, there is another purpose for getting in a bit early: common courtesy. Depending on department policy, you may be able to take a call for the person you are relieving. That means the off-going person will get to go home on time instead of having to run that call just before shift change, keeping them at work until the rig is able to get back to the station. Hopefully, the person relieving you will do the same thing. Plus, being known as someone who races the bell every shift yet expects to get relieved on time isn’t really good for your reputation.

Everyone Is Responsible

Unfortunately, tardiness or being “just on time” to the station aren’t issues limited to new recruits. Senior members and officers need to remember the unwritten rule to be at the station early. If the officer or the senior members are always pushing the clock, why would newly assigned personnel do anything different? It’s you who will set the example for new personnel. Model the behavior that is best for the department and the crews. Get there early, and be ready to work before the clock officially starts.

JON DORMAN is a content developer with Lexipol. He has more than 25 years in the fire service in both combination and career departments, retiring as the assistant chief of operations and deputy emergency manager. Dorman also has more than a decade of experience teaching in the Fire Science and Emergency Management program at Purdue University Global (formerly Kaplan University). He has a bachelor’s degree in fire protection science from SUNY Empire State College, a master’s degree in employment law from Nova Southeastern University, and a master’s degree in homeland security and emergency management from Kaplan University. Dorman can be reached at

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