Achieving efficiency and effectiveness in the use of resources has become an important goal of Fire and Rescue Services. At Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service, the need to increase efficiencies led them to take the next step in resource management. After partnering with FireServiceRota, Shropshire was able to improve the quality of service, protect the jobs of firefighters, and save over £400,000 in the process.
For many years, Shropshire FRS followed a rigid 2-2-4 Rota for their wholetime duty personnel. Firefighters would work for two days, two nights, and then get four days to recover from the night shift and spend some time with the family. Though effective in ensuring full staff availability at all times, this system often falls into the trap of causing overstaffing, as it usually has to build in a buffer to compensate for annual holiday, training, sickness and other types of unplanned absence to schedule shifts. Overstaffing unnecessarily causes overtime. Therefore, efficiency gain is primarily achieved by rostering off the shifts above optimal crewing levels and reallocating them in times of need.
We spoke to Sally Edwards, IT Manager for Shropshire Fire and Rescue, who explained the challenge they were facing: “We were looking to implement changes to increase efficiencies and achieve savings. So we tried to manage (the new flexible shift system) using a spreadsheet. That’s where we started to feel the pain.”The spreadsheet simply couldn’t handle the complexity of managing every firefighter’s dynamic personal schedule and ensure proper crewing levels at all times, but it did prove the principle of optimising crewing levels. Ms. Edwards started looking for an electronic system that would support the changes implemented in Shropshire in an effective and flexible way.
There are many rostering packages in the market, but not all of them have experience working with the Fire Service. Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service was looking for a solution that would flexibly support the shift patterns in use. It was essential that their software supplier was able to meet these expectations and understood the reasons behind the specific requirements. Shropshire FRS came across FireServiceRota when evaluating software specifically designed for firefighters and they were immediately attracted to the flexibility and potential of the solution.
FireServiceRota was originally developed to ensure the readiness of retained fire brigades while improving work and life balance for firefighters. However, Edwards was intrigued by the potential of the company and made all the arrangements necessary to see the system in action. A committee of Shropshire FRS representatives visited The Netherlands, home turf of FireServiceRota, to meet with existing customers and find out how they were using FireServiceRota. This helped them identify the differences that would need to be addressed to make the system viable for the Shropshire wholetime firefighters.
The Agile Methodology
After discussing minor amendments to the system, FireServiceRota and Shropshire partnered to develop the specific requirements using the Agile Methodology. The Agile way consists on a series of short sprints of flexible, adaptive planning, continuous testing and improvement, and early delivery of new features. At the end of every 2 week sprint users could see and use new functionality to better support their processes, and accurately identify the focus for next sprint.
“From where we were, it was perfect.” Sally Edwards commented, “It allowed us to work together and form a healthy relationship with [FireServiceRota]. When we were asking for something, they were able to question it and make sure that was the way we wanted to go. FireServiceRota was really listening to the managers, as opposed to being in a software environment shell. We were actually able to tailor it quite specifically to what we needed.”
Partnering up with FireServiceRota proved to be the right decision for Shropshire FRS. The Service was able to achieve what they wanted to do in the first place: create a unique roster system that would help them increase efficiencies. In numbers, the changes FireServiceRota supports have allowed Shropshire to achieve over £400,000 in cost savings. Most importantly, no jobs were lost and all freed up capacity was reallocated to the improvement of service quality. By evaluating and reporting on the performance of fire stations, fire authorities are now able to make more informed decisions to improve the quality of the service.
FireServiceRota has also helped Shropshire to improve the level of service to the public by ensuring that the right staff is available at the right time, and in the right place. Other upcoming features, such as nearest-officer mobilisation, are being developed together with Shropshire to allow them to further increase operational efficiencies and quality.
Ms. Edwards also reflected on the most important learnings when looking for and finding a provider of availability and rostering software. “[I recommend other Fire and Rescue Services] to not being fixed with a specific set of requirements and try to find the best match.” Edwards said, “[Instead] be open to the idea of finding a good fit for a partner that will help you get to where you want and embrace Agile.”
“Experiences [working with FireServiceRota] have been refreshing”, Sally mentioned. “I’m impressed by their openness, willingness to work together, and that [the relationship] is not just a contractual arrangement, but a partnership based on trust.”Rod Hammerton, Chief Fire Officer of Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service added: “Above all, however, we were impressed by the way the FireServiceRota team worked with us. They listened to everything we had to say and then adapted the system to suit our needs exactly. It was a very positive experience.”