NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) – North Kingstown Firefighters say they're working more hours with fewer people and that it's a public safety concern they want the town to act on.
In March, the North Kingstown town council voted to change firefighter's schedules from a 42 hour week to a 56 hour work week.
But they end up working much more.
"We're so understaffed and there's nobody to fill vacancies, nobody to handle their shift that ultimately, people end up working very long stretches of time – 48, 62, 72 hour stretches, with no hope of actually being relieved by off-duty personnel," says Raymond Furtado, President of the North Kingstown Firefighters Association.
Furtado says in 2009 the department had 88 firefighters, now there are 57 men and women on staff.
Fewer on the force coupled with longer hours leads to fatigued firefighters and Furtado fears negative consequences.
"We're in the business of protecting the property and lives of North Kingstown, so you want people at their best," Furtado said.
"We're at 22 weeks of this and it's an unsustainable situation and we're afraid sooner or later, something bad is going to happen."
The North Kingstown Firefighters Association says a judge recently ruled that the ordinance calling for a longer work week was invalid.
Still, firefighters continue to work 56 hours or more, hoping that soon, something will change.
"Bad policies can be reversed, but tragedies can't," says Furtado.
Furtado tells Eyewitness News most New England fire departments work some version of a 42 hour work week, not a 56 hour work week.
We reached out to North Kingstown town manager Michael Embury who said, "We are in a process, we have no comment to make at this time."
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