Two jobs is one too many

June 4, 2011

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IF HE weren’t holding two crucial public-safety positions, Richard G. Covino’s determination to juggle his schedule to work as both a full-time Massport firefighter and a full-time Boston paramedic would be the stuff of legend: One can imagine a manic Hollywood screenplay for, say, Jim Carrey.

But what might appear heroic — or, at least, charmingly eccentric — from one perspective is dangerously irresponsible from another. Consider what it means to work up to 100 hours a week, as Covino did. Forget the traditional 9-to-5 weekday schedule. This would be 9 a.m. to 5 the next morning. Or, if he works seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 11:20 p.m. Either way, it’s too much. It’s impossible to believe that he’d be physically and mentally alert at all times, week after week; and anything less than full alertness for a firefighter or EMT could mean life or death — for himself or ordinary citizens.

The other aspect of Covino’s story is, of course, what it says about the lax personnel policies of his employers, who allowed him to swap shifts with other workers to patch together his crazy-quilt schedule. These practices certainly met the needs of Covino and his colleagues, many of whom had additional part-time jobs, but they deprived superiors of the ability to determine who is working at a given time. Both firefighting and emergency medical response require extensive teamwork, so a constantly shifting roster is a detriment to public safety.

Wisely, both agencies have now moved to sharply limit those practices, which will put pressure on Covino to give up one of his jobs. If he doesn’t, the agencies should make him choose. There’s no reason to believe that Covino, who has never spoken publicly about his work schedule, is anything but a hard-working guy trying to do what’s best for his family. But when it comes to firefighting and emergency response, what’s best for the public has to take precedence.