One Day Off = Five Days Off – How lucky are we?
One vacation day in the life of a firefighter can mean a lot of days off. For a firefighter who works 24 on, 48 off, one vacation day actually gives them 5 days away from the station! No Monday – Friday employee I know can get 5 days off by only using one vacation day. We are so lucky in the fire life to be able to take advantage of the extra time our firefighters have with their families when they have vacation days.
The Trials and Tribulations of Vacation Picking Season at the Fire Department
If your station does vacation picking, you know what a big deal it is. At my firefighter’s station, they call it leave bidding. They have to submit a written request for which days they want off. The days requested off are granted by seniority. This means that he doesn’t always, or even most of the time, get the dates he would like for vacation days…at least not for another 20 years! In 20 years, I hope we still want to take those long backpacking trips, long road adventures, and have our dreams of traveling the world because we just may have the time to do it then. This vacation picking season can go in multiple directions depending on the “brotherhood” of the crew. In some places it’s every man for himself and those with low seniority find themselves with 2 weeks off in early November while their family is heads down in work and school. I’ve also seen some very helpful and brotherly ways to pick vacation. For example, multiples rounds of picks. So everyone can get their most important days on the calendar before the 2 senior guys block all of summer and all of December with their stockpile of vacation days. The process differs from station to station, but it all ends the same way…vacation days on the books. Here are some of thoughts from the Fire Wife Sisterhood on vacation picking.
1. Getting Time Off On Holidays
It is a normal part of the fire life to reschedule holidays and skip vacations simply because your firefighter has to be at the station working. We celebrate the holidays we know our firefighter will be home with us, because we know what a big deal it is. We all are familiar with the uncertainty of whether or not our firefighter will be home for any holiday in the coming year. The excitement of this firefighter wife having holiday time with her firefighter may resonate with you (not to mention the humor we all develop about missing the next one):
“We got so lucky this year and he had all Christmas Vacation with the kids. Most likely not gonna happen again in 2016…lol”
We catch ourselves marking time by counting the years since our firefighter was home for a particular holiday. It can be years between being able to celebrate Christmas on the actual day all together. I know how frustrating it can be. Seriously? Another year without him home on Christmas? You have to be kidding! Happiness fills this fire family who finally broke the cycle of working on Christmas:
“This was the first Christmas in about 4 years!”
This is due largely in part to the senior firefighters getting first pick and choosing to be off for specific holidays – Memorial Day and Labor Day Weekends for example. Great times to travel for weekend getaways.
2. Having Your Firefighter Home For A Long Stretch
Before you get too excited, those senior firefighters sometimes have vacation time they need to use up. Even the fire wives whose husbands have put in the years, work, and sacrifice to gain seniority, may still face a challenge of the transition to having their firefighter home full time:
“We pick in October and since ff has the most seniority he takes the last 7 weeks of the year off. By the time January gets here I’m happy for him to go back to work.”“He went back to work today. :)It is a double edged sword. I love having him home but miss my every 3rd day of quiet time. When he goes back to work I miss him.”
3. Picking Vacation Days With Blended Families
The fact that no matter what vacation days your firefighter gets, the struggle of trying to coordinate everyone’s schedule still may exist. Every other weekends, perhaps with 2 sets of parents. Sometimes this boils down to only one potential weekend available.
“We struggle because FF has kids from 2 previous marriages with 2 different schedules at our home. Our calendar is a crazy hot mess sometimes!”“FF picked his dates a couple of weeks ago. Our main picks are usually the kids birthdays and summer vacation. Everything else is either a trade or celebrate a different day. We make it work if we have to.”
4. When Vacation Days Don’t Match Up, Thank Goodness For Trades
In many departments, even if vacation doesn’t work out as you need it, many other firefighters are in the same boat and happy to work out trades with other firefighters to get off those important vacation days you need.
5. But How Do You Plan That Far In Advance?
This is another small hurdle in the fire family life. Cousin Joe gets engaged and you get a wedding invite for September long after vacation picks were done. Sometimes, things change, and other firefighters cancel their planned vacation days so something opens up on the calendar. (Honestly, this is a pet peeve of mine when someone senior just “blocks time just in case” and then cancels it like a week before. That just blocked our first choice week of family vacation but now it’s too late to replan. Frustrating! Don’t be that firefighter 😉 ) In these wedding and other pop up events, like kids sports schedules for example, refer back to item 4 – trades. The important lesson – make friends with guys on other unit days and BE GOOD ABOUT PAY BACKS.
6. Is Vacation Time For Family or Sport?
Do you have this problem in your home? First thought to vacation scheduling immediately turns to the first day of deer season. I’m so sorry hunting widows! The fire wives whose firefighters disappear into the fields, woods, mountains, or plains depending on the hunting season.
“My FF chooses hunting season! Then he tries very hard to trade to make vacations work lol.” My FF chooses hunting season as well. The rest is secondary!”” Oooooh this sounds like my house!!! Hunting takes priority over EVERYTHING!”
7. Taking the Ultra Mega Vacation
Despite the challenges of scheduling and planning and suffering through those low seniority years, there are some crazy benefits to the fire department vacation schedule – like the ultra mega vacation. I’m talking about taking 2, 3, 4 or more weeks off at once. It’s totally do able with vacation time, personal time and / or some trades. When we took our first 2.5 week vacation traveling the east coast in 2012, everyone at my office looked at me like I was crazy. No one can take 2 week vacations – except our colleagues in Europe who take off all of August, and Dec. 20 – Jan. 7 and all that time around Easter….I’m serious. Look it up. We’ve got something seriously backwards here in America. Unless you’re a firefighter.
8. All Those Days You Don’t Need to Take Vacation Time For
So how about this perspective? Think of those 1-2 night quick trips that can happen because of the shift schedule. And how many times he didn’t have to take vacation time for a doctors appointment or sick child or when the basement flooded. Because they were off duty and available. This doesn’t mean to not schedule vacation time and save it up (um, refer to item 2). Taking time completely away for a week or two is rejuvenating and healthy and like money, we can’t take vacation time with us when we leave this earth.
When Frustrated, Remember The Benefits
With thankful hearts, and the occasional frustration, we will mark our calendars for the days our firefighter has off in the coming year. We will live every moment we have together, and always remember the times apart make them that much sweeter.
Speaking of vacation time, have you booked your Commitment Weekend yet?
Registration will open soon. This year Commitment Weekend is in Estes Park, CO on June 2-4th. More details with registration open.