Firefighters must meet many unique requirements to successfully complete their duties and capably serve in their roles.

Safely navigating the dangers posed by uncontrolled blazes is perhaps the most visible and serious concern for these first responders. However, the especially important nature of the job means firefighters often follow taxing work schedules, with long shifts and weekly hours frequently exceeding those seen in other careers.

A strong bipartisan effort in Congress is working to address the scheduling demands placed on federal firefighters. These efforts include relaxing rules around trading shifts that could quickly improve work-life balance for these professionals.

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

Strict schedules for federal firefighters

Federal firefighters work for agencies including the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service, along with branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, according to ZipRecruiter. They tend to fight wildfires and blazes in remote areas. Their work often necessitates especially long schedules, frequently clocking in at 24 hours per shift and 72 hours per week.

The demands placed on federal firefighters mean their free time is limited and, therefore, uniquely valuable. However, these firefighters are limited by federal rules around trading shifts to accommodate family obligations and similar needs. Many federal agencies currently avoid shift trading among firefighters because of the complexities that can arise when trades occur across pay periods, which necessitate pay adjustments and, in some cases, the provision of overtime.

Although these firefighters enjoy significant time off between working weeks, as Government Executive reported, they might be forced to miss a variety of personal events and obligations, should one fall during their time on the job.

The Federal Times explained that firefighters working for these government agencies need to use some form of leave to excuse an absence during their scheduled hours, even if they can find a colleague willing to cover that shift. This isn't a concern for municipal and state-level professionals, who already have this additional freedom in scheduling.

A bipartisan push to increase flexibility

A group of five senators, spanning both houses of the federal legislature and both major political parties, reintroduced a bill called the The Federal Firefighter Flexibility and Fairness Act in late March. This piece of legislation would allow federal firefighters to trade shifts without penalty, doing away with the requirement to use some form of leave to facilitate trades and addressing the compensation issues that currently arise.

"It's no secret that wildfires across the West are burning bigger and longer, meaning our federal firefighters work overtime, putting their lives on the line to keep our communities safe," said Sen. Jon Tester of Montana. "This critical bill gives them the flexibility they need to better balance their work and home lives, and it saves taxpayer dollars. Switching shifts is common practice among state and local firefighters — it's only common sense that our federal firefighters are able to do the same."

While the bill still needs to pass through the U.S. Capitol and White House before becoming a law, it has strong support and a strong underlying principle of fairness to first responders on its side.