He leaves home Monday afternoon for work. Although he returns each morning of the week to sleep he will not see his wife until Friday because she works eight daytime hours Monday through Friday. He is an Arlington firefigher and will work an average of 56 hours a week.
The firefighters who are asking the Arlington County Board to reduce their work hours, say such a family schedule is not unusual for them. Their schedule of four 10-hour days, then four 14-hours nights followed by four days off keeps them away from their families too much, they say, and causes broken marriages and family problems. The schedule over 12 weeks averages out to a 56-hour week.
"You could go all week without seeing the children," Bobby Steelman said. "I have."
The job "definitely affects marriages," Capt. Harold Taylor said. Although he refused to blame his own divorce on the rigors of his job, he said he had seen many other marriages affected by it.
"This job and the hours broke me and my first wife up," said Calbert Hyland, a paramedic in the department. "But I love the job."
The firemen have asked the county board to change their schedules to one more like the regular 40-hour week most other county employes work. The firefighters have proposed a three-year conversion schedule that would cost about $1 million to hire an extra 70 persons and eventually allow firefighters to work an average of 42 hours a week, according to Harry Brady, who is heading the campaign for a shorter work week.
Brady, who calls the fire department the "stepchild" of the county, says he is tired of what he believes is the county's under-financing of basic services, such as fire protection.
Brady explained that firefighters have always worked longer hours than regular employes because during part of their nighttime shift they are allowed to sleep. That, however, is still time the firefighter is forced to be away from his family, he said.
Another firefigher, Richard Geneste, complained that the argument that firefighters sleep during their shift isn't fair, because he is still away from home 14 hours at a time. "(Besides) I sleep very poorly here."
The firefighters are quick to point out, however, that they do not object to the shift work and realize that their jobs will always require working some nights. Their proposal calls for the 42-hour work week to consist of two 10-hour days and two 14-hour nights with four days off. Over 16 weeks that would average out to a 42-hour work week.
Although Fairfax and Alexandria also require their firefighters to work 56 hours, the Arlington men base part of their request for shorter work weeks on the fact that firefighters work 48 hours in the District of Columbia and Montgomery County and 44 hours in Prince George's County.
Some firefighters also point to what they say is as increasing work load as a justification for shortening the work week that they have maintained since 1962. An increase in ambulance calls and maintenance work keeps the firefighters busy, they say, and often leaves little time to sleep. Calbert Hyland, an ambulance driver, recalled one work week in which he got only three hours sleep while stationed at the firehouse.
Charles W. Theodore, a second generation Arlington fireman, sees the shorter work week as a remedy for an injury rate, which he says is high among Arlington firefighters.
Theodore told the County Board at a budget hearing last week that he estimated lost man hours and early retirement caused by injuries cost the county more than $254,000 between June 1976 and June 1978.
According to county figures for the past three years, the fire department has 78 cases of work-related injuries in fiscal 1975, 66 injuries in fiscal 1976, and 82 in fiscal 1977.
Theodore, whose father was killd fighting a fire in 1961, said the long work week contributes to fatigue and can cause accidents. His father, he said, was killed after working more than 100 hours that week.
County Manager W. Verndon Ford said he does not support the firefighters' proposal. "Among community priorities . . . I doubt very seriously that $1 million for no additional service will be acceptable," he said. "On an hourly scale I'm sure you'd find firefighters' salaries are) lower, but no other employes are paid while they're sleeping."
According to county figures the firefighter earns $16.712 a year. On an hourly basis the beginning firefighter earns $4.30 an hour compared with the $3.65 an hour that a beginning clerk typist with no experience earns.
Despite their concerns, most Arlington firefighters say they enjoy their job.
One widowed fighter who is trying to raise his 9-year-old son alone expressed it this way:
"You get a call and you find a man who isn't breathing. And you give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and you see the color come back into his face. There ain't a feeling in the world that matches that."