Career ladder

Working 24-hour shifts gives firefighters enough time off to do something on the side when just one job won't do


In 1887, Charlotte hired its first four full-time firemen. The job paid $25 a month. The city now has slightly more than 1,000 firefighters on its payroll, including about 40 women. Starting salary is $30,681 a year, but having a bachelor’s degree bumps that to $33,826. Though many things have changed, one hasn’t: Few go into this line of work — where barging into burning buildings and performing other acts deviant to the species’ multimillennia-honed instinct for survival are just part of the job — for the money.

Truth is, most work other jobs so they can do this one. “The schedule of a firefighter affords the opportunity to have another job to meet the expenses of having a family,” says Capt. Rob Brisley, the Charlotte Fire Department’s public-information officer. Though no records are kept of how many moonlight or what they do, “it’s common to have at least one other job.” Most work outdoors doing manual labor or running their own businesses to take advantage of time off. Firefighters pull 10 24-hour shifts a month on this rotation: one day on, one off; one on, two off; one on, one off; one on, four off.

These pictures were taken by Scott Stiles, a captain who has 14 years of experience and earns about $62,000 a year. He got interested in firefighting while doing a photo documentary as a student at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, then joined a nearby volunteer fire department. After graduating in 1988 with a bachelor’s in photography, he worked as a commercial photographer until he realized what he really wanted to do with his life and started applying to departments. CFD hired him in January 1991. Now, with a wife and three kids, photography is what he does to “make ends meet.”