An effective rota for fire stations should ensure the right number of staff, with the right skills, available at all times.
Many fire stations in densely populated or high risk areas usually rely on the Wholetime Duty System (WDS), sometimes supplemented by Retained Duty System (RDS) crews to provide a high level of service to the public. The co-ordination of shifts for the wholetime firefighters is a tough challenge. It needs to be cost efficient, provide sufficient coverage at all times, while also guaranteeing a good work/life balance for firefighters.
In the past, very strict and time demanding schedules, such as the 3 shift (Metropolitan), the 2/2/4 , and the 5 watch shift systems were the norm. These systems are meant to provide optimum coverage, but they tend to lose control over staffing levels and are far from being family friendly because some of them require more on-duty shifts and provide less weekends off.
In this article we will focus on the standard 2/2/4 duty system, a widely used system that fits the general needs of the Wholetime Fire Services. This system requires wholetime firefighters to work two days, two nights, and then get four days off.
The two big challenges
A standard 2/2/4 duty usually requires the Fire Service to employ more personnel than strictly necessary to ensure appliances stay at or above minimum levels. This is the result of taking into consideration annual holiday, training , sickness and other types of unplanned absence. This over-crewing results in cost inefficiencies.
The second key challenge of the traditional 2/2/4 system is the inefficiency to balance staffing deficiencies by exchanging duty shifts between personnel. These changes are usually done at a moment’s notice, which makes them hard to keep track of and impacts personnel’s personal lives.
The solution to these problems is to make the system more flexible. However, adding flexibility to the standard 2/2/4 system creates some new challenges that need to be addressed for it to work properly.
Cut Costs, Improve Productivity, Increase Staff Welfare
With increasing government pressure to reduce costs, Fire and Rescue Services are faced with a daunting task. But the need to find a suitable and cost effective solution has an answer in dynamic scheduling software.
A flexible 2/2/4 system optimizes resources to keep staff available and ready for emergency response without having to pay overtime and prevent staffing to fall below optimum levels.
There are various ways to make the system more flexible and resilient:
- Allowing crew members to initiate and complete a shift exchange request and approval workflow without the need of scheduler intervention. The system tracks all changes and guarantees optimal crewing levels are maintained.
- In case of a station being under strength schedulers can quickly and easily identify staff who are over and above optimal crewing levels in surrounding stations. A fall-back scenario is also supported: managing the availability of one or a few resilience crew members throughout the county and calling them in when/if needed. This prevents impacting the personal lives of off-duty personnel to be called in at a moment’s notice and prevents overtime by using personnel already working.
Whether you are exchanging a shift or allocating additional personnel, the system will always try to favour staff that still owe the highest number of hours/shifts. This balances the workload, gives equal opportunities to meet contractual targets and prevents booking overtime.
These slight but significant changes to the 2/2/4 system can provide a more family friendly schedule and a boost in staff morale, since they would be able to exchange shifts easier, and get better work and life balance. Also, adding rostered on and off-duty shifts gives the organization the ability to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to roster changes without taking the pumps off the run.
Get back in control
Flexibility and efficiency can be added to the system when proper (software) support is provided.
FireServiceRota fully supports the flexible 2/2/4 system, and provides an integral solution to manage wholetime and retained personnel in a single system. This provides managers with a real-time and future overview of crewing level and available skills.