Achieving optimal crewing levels is a matter of balance

“Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create” - Jana Kingsford

Fire and Rescue Services have always had the goal of protecting their community and making it a safer place to live and work. However, as times change, there has been an increasing focus on performance and optimisation of resources, which creates new challenges requiring greater attention to details. For Fire Authorities, optimising resources has become a mix of art and science that demands proper planning for performance and resilience.

Optimising resources requires understanding which factors or forces are involved in every decision and understand the reasons of why “too much” or “too little” focus on them could lead to inefficient performance.

Creating a perfect balance

Regardless of operating under wholetime, flexible or retained duty systems, every station needs balance of these forces:

  • Financial performance.
  • Personnel wellness and happiness
  • Resource availability to ensure a high level of service to the community.

Budget Optimisation

One of the most pressing issues for Fire and Rescue Services is optimising their financial performance. Limited resources, as a consequence of budget cuts, have forced Fire and Rescue Services to be more creative with their crewing models. Preventing overstaffing and avoiding overtime expenditure are the main objectives.

However, Services can’t be too strict in trying to operate on minimum crewing levels, as any last-minute changes could take the pumps off the run. This is especially true with the increasing number of specialisations and skills required to operate different appliances. At the same time, requesting too many people to remain on-call (by requiring them to be on-call over 100 hours per week, for example) can lead to over-expenditure on unnecessary disturbance fees.

Ideally, Services should aim to keep the pumps on the run by allocating resources efficiently, meaning that the quality of the available hours should be more important than the quantity.This would allow them to proactively manage shifts and rotas, and allocating available personnel to different stations where they can help ensure that appliances are kept on the run.

Personnel Wellness

Another aspect that needs to be considered is the wellness and happiness of firefighters. With “lack of flexibility” being one of the major barriers for recruitment and retainment of the Retained Duty System, changes must be made to ensure that firefighters are able to perform their duties without having to sacrifice their work and personal commitments.

Another aspect to consider is the compliance with labour and union rules that protect firefighters from overwork or stress and ensure fair compensation for their duties. At the same time, it is also important to consider the fair allocation of extra shifts and overtime. Keeping track of the amount and relevance of worked hours and training can help firefighters and services ensure a healthy and enjoyable work environment.

Furthermore, by understanding when, where and how firefighters are performing their duties, Fire and Rescue Services can achieve more flexibility for firefighters. Both wholetime and retained firefighters can benefit from a more flexible system, as it would allow them to balance personal and work commitments more easily, while ensuring resource availability.

Resource Availability

Ensuring sound financial performance and flexibility for firefighters only works if the responsibility towards the community can be upheld. Cost savings will never be worth putting people and property at risk. By utilising available personnel in a smarter and fairer way, F&RSs can increase the quality of service to the community and resource availability.

Understanding all the different rules and skills required to maintain appliances on the run is a key factor to plan and react to changes in firefighters’ schedules. At the same time, innovation in response models (like the Tiered Response Model by Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service) can increase resilience by taking a look at underutilised capacity and understanding how and when unavailable personnel can become available during large-scale incidents.

Achieving balance demands intelligent software support

At FireServiceRota we understand all the forces that interact in order to achieve optimal crewing levels Service-wide. FireServiceRota’s scheduling and availability software allows fire brigades to ensure every station is always ready to respond to emergencies while complying with business and labour rules. At the same time, it keeps track of every member’s activities to report to the service’s payroll system, tracks contract compliance and automates fair overtime allocation.

It provides smart and actionable insights that allow firefighters, station managers and other fire authorities to make informed decisions to ensure that the goal of making their community a safer place to live and work is accomplished.

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