Sleepless in the Sault

Now playing at the Theater of the Absurd: A chief who forbids sleep; here's hoping it's a limited run

As a long-time insomniac, I'm pleased to report that the Blackhawks early exit from playoff hockey has boosted both my quantity and quality of sleep — at least three nights a week.

So, that buzz coming from Canada last week isn't the blare of a playoff hockey goal horn. Rather, it's the buzz of a perpetual alarm clock.

Apparently, in one city at least, they frown on sleeping. Yes, of course I am referring to the fire chief who won't let the guys and gals sleep on a 24-hour shift.

Let's do a little background. This insomniatic controversy is taking place in Sault St. Marie, Ontario. I am actually somewhat familiar with Sault St. Marie.

Some big time hockey players are from the Sault (pronounced su). Two great ones who immediately come to mind are the Esposito brothers. Tony the goalie who played for Editor Rick Markley's Chicago Blackhawks and Phil. Phil won Lord Stanley's Cup with the Boston Bruins.

Sault St. Marie has a population of around 75,000; it is situated on the St. Mary's River and has a steel mill. Forestry seems to be the major industry now.

Interestingly, just to the south of the Canadian version is Sault St. Marie, Mich. Until the War of 1812 the cities were one in the same, they were split after the war. There's been no word on how the Canadian firefighters' U.S. counterparts sleep. Another interesting fact — the residents can boast the world's busiest canal.

More than meets the ear
Before I go into the average rainfall or festival schedules, the issue here is the firefighters have won the right to work a 24-hour shift in a contract negotiation. The firefighters previously worked a 15-hour shift, which was the fire chief's preferred schedule.

Following the change, the fire chief said something to the effect of, "No, no, no! There will be no sleeping on a 24-hour shift."

There are several things to consider here. First off, I have never heard of a 15-hour shift. This is a reader participation part. Somebody please write in and tell me how that works. I've only worked 24-hour shifts and some 12s part time.

Second, using my Geraldo Rivera investigative skills I strongly suspect there is more going on here than pillow talk. The city and the local firefighters association are at odds over fire department cuts.

As the world's greatest detective Jacques Clouseau once said, "It is obvious to my trained eye that there is more here than meets the ear." I surmise this has the signs of an Olympic-scale urinary long-spray contest.

The first issue here is the sleeping. This is something that is not talked about a lot because frankly, people don't understand it. Despite current research to the contrary, sleeping on duty gets a bad rap.

Sleep is for slackers
I can't tell you how many times when I tell people I work 24 hours they say, "Oh, but you get to sleep at night." I am always amused by the most disgruntled who invariably say, "Nobody else gets to sleep at work."

True enough. However, how many other occupations are required to be at work 24 hours? If you walked into the Department of Motor Vehicles and everybody was in sleeping bags on the floor sawing logs, not a lot would get done.

However, these people only work 8 hours. I think it is reasonable for people to have to be awake for 8 hours.

Of course I realize and fully believe nobody in corporate America has ever dozed at their desk. It has never happened. Yet, it would be amusing if they did so at one of those new stand-up desks.

My sleep patterns are so jacked up that I don't think they will ever be normal again. True, on rare nights I go to sleep and don't wake up until the next morning.

More often I am woken up two or three times a night at least. In a big house with four or five units, the lights come on and go off all night.

A couple of Saturday nights ago I slept from 9 p.m. to midnight. The pumper ran, at 1 the rescue ran, the ladder at 2, the rescue again at 3, the ladder at 4 followed by the pumper again at 5.

I worked for an EMS service years ago where I didn't even take a bedroll. I just hung out in a recliner between calls. There was no sense in trying to sleep.

Pinch me
Mike Figliola, the fire chief in our "sleepless in the Su" saga has apparently ruffled feathers before. One of his first acts was to decertify a hiring list, much to the dismay of the outgoing Chief Marcel Provenzano.

Chief Figliola threw out the old list after Chief Provenzano promised the people on the list they would be hired. In all fairness the list was several years old.

According to the local firefighter association website, the fire department frontline personnel has been reduced 25 percent. They even have a letter posted from a local mutual-aid organization on cuts in the Sault St. Marie Fire Department. There are several open letters there you can read.

I looked at some photos of the town; they appear to have some mid- and high-rise buildings. Sault St. Marie has 13 people on duty. I'm not trained in fire-risk analysis, but that is not going to cut it at a high-rise.

However, the most bizarre fact in all this: firefighters were allowed to sleep on the previous 15-hour shifts. It gets stranger.

Chief Figliola was against the 24-hour shifts because he feared problems with firefighters tired from a lack of sleep. So the answer is to not let people sleep at all. Words escape me. I'm going to have to turn this over to Don Cherry.

Here is a universally known fact. The more shift changes you have, the more overtime you will incur. Medic units in big cities are gone for several hours at a time. There would be overtime every day.

Oh well, I hope things work out for the local lifesavers who risk it all for the residents in the Sault. I'm off to take a nap — yes I'm at home — and dream about playing pond hockey with the Esposito brothers.

Let me hear from you. 

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