Interactions between home, work, and sleep among firefighters

Shelby L. Watkins, Martina A. Shannon, David A. Hurtado, Steven A. Shea, Nicole P. Bowles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background: Firefighters endure large occupational burdens and generally operate under conditions of chronic sleep deficiency and circadian disruption due to long shifts, plus interrupted sleep due to emergency calls during the night. A typical shift for firefighters is 24-h on/48-h off, and firefighters are expected to use time-off to recover from any sleep debt, while balancing social, family, and home responsibilities. This qualitative study sets out to assess family dynamics and how firefighters prioritize sleep and recovery at home based on relationship or family status, as well as a fire department's current shift schedule. Methods: Focus groups were conducted via convenience sampling in Portland, OR, with full-time firefighters, battalion chiefs, and their spouses. Grounded theory, using NVivo 12 Plus, was used to code transcripts to reveal reoccurring concepts and themes. Results: Major themes centered around the increase of nonemergent calls contributing to compassion fatigue. Spouses can help improve the sleep of firefighters by creating opportunities for recuperative sleep at home. However, spouses also conveyed underlying tones of “resentment” relating to their firefighter being unavailable for emotional and instrumental support. While married firefighters discussed choosing family and home obligations over reducing sleep debt to maintain relationships, single and divorced firefighters spoke of fewer conflicts impeding their ability to prioritize sleep at home. Conclusions: These results improve our understanding of how firefighters prioritize sleep at home based on family dynamics and can inform future decision-making for fire departments in addressing concerns related to work–family conflict, sleep loss, and compassion fatigue among their members.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)137-148
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Industrial Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • emergency workers
  • occupational health
  • qualitative analysis
  • shift work
  • workload

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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