Flexible Duty System Officers deserve better than Excel

With decreasing resources and increasing specialisms how do Fire & Rescue Services ensure the availability of appropriately skilled Flexible Duty System (FDS) officers? More so, how do they achieve this without increasing the reliance on duty planners updating spreadsheets 24/7 to account for dynamic changes to availability?

Maintaining Required Cover

An effective rota for FDS officers must ensure the right number of staff, with the right skills, available at all times. It needs to provide real time availability and provide sufficient resources at all times, while having the ability to allow for dynamic changes by the end user. The specialist roles undertaken by FDS officers continue to grow; Hazardous Materials Environmental Protection Advisors (HMEPA’s), Fire Investigation Officers, Tactical Advisors, Incident Liaison Officers, Family Liaison Officers, Fire Safety Officers - the list is ever expanding. Therefore the challenge for scheduling supervisors is not just maintaining minimum numbers but the more complex issue of managing the specialist skills to provide appropriate cover.

The traditional resolution to this issue for many fire and rescue services are simple or increasingly not-so-simple spreadsheets. These systems are likely to need time consuming administrator intervention and communication through email or phone calls to confirm changes. For dynamic changes that can happen 24/7 this is far from ideal. It is reasonably simple to identify officer numbers on a spreadsheet but finding specific skill set deficiencies is harder and allows opportunity for human error.  This scheduling work and conformation increases cost to the service through staff hours and reduces the flexibility to the end user.

Reduce Scheduler Intervention, Increase Flexibility

With increasing government pressure to reduce costs, Fire and Rescue Services are faced with a daunting task in particular when considering the majority of expenditure is on staff wages. Service delivery is still required but with fewer resources.But the need to find a suitable and cost effective solution can be found in dynamic scheduling software. The answer to this is to add flexibility and automation to the system allowing immediate real time changes without any supervisory intervention but still ensuring officer numbers and skill set availability.

FDS Officers get insight on skills and availability

There are various ways to make the system more flexible and resilient:

  • Allowing officers to initiate and complete dynamic availability changes without the need of scheduler intervention. The system tracks all changes providing an audit trail for supervisors and guarantees sufficient crewing levels are maintained.
  • In cases where officer levels would fall under strength an officer or supervisor can be informed of the breach and provide them the opportunity to request a shift swap from other qualified officers.  
  • When planning for less dynamic changes automated systems can still be used to facilitate duty swaps with other officers
  • Duty swaps can be directed to only those officers with relevant skill sets and avoids creating back-to-back shifts. This prevents unnecessary email requests to others.  

These slight but significant changes to the officer availability system can provide identifiable efficiencies and a more family friendly schedule boosting staff morale, since they would be able to exchange shifts easier, and get better work and life balance.

Get back in control

Flexibility and efficiency can be added to the system when proper (software) support is provided.FireServiceRota fully supports the flexible and automated scheduling of FDS officers and provides Fire & Rescue Services with a real-time and future overview of officer levels and maintains specialist skills. In addition FireServiceRota can also cater for on call and wholetime firefighter scheduling to provide a service level availability system to providing a holistic overview and assurance of resource availability.

Many services have already successfully replaced their Excel planning sheets by FireServiceRota. This provides appropriate auditing, efficiency and supports flexible planning processes. Please contact us to find out how FireServiceRota can support your service.

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