Do you enforce the weekly contracted number of on-call hours? How do the fixed monthly retainer and hourly rate compare to other countries? Do you allow on-call firefighters to reject incident attendance? Policy makers for the UK Fire and Rescue Service are challenged to make effective and efficient use of the scarce resources currently available. They are also looking to unlock untapped potential by exploring new contracting opportunities and engaging groups that are currently underrepresented in the workforce. In the following article we discuss innovative ideas and compare the current situation in the UK with The Netherlands.
You get what you pay for, so pay for what you need
On-call firefighters in the UK and The Netherlands are earning about the same salary per month: between £350 and £550, depending on rank and attendance. However, the way this salary is calculated is totally different. In the UK over 50% is paid as a fixed retainer whereas in The Netherlands the fixed retainer is less than 10% of the total monthly salary. The rest is earned through attendance of incidents and training.
|Hourly compensation for incident attendance||£ 10 – 18
+ £ 4 per disturbance
|£ 16 – 26
No disturbance fee
|Typical 3 hours incident||£ 46||£ 63|
|Hourly compensation for other non-operational work incl. training / drills||£ 10 – 18||£ 8 – 14|
|Fixed monthly compensation||£ 187 – 331
|£ 23 – 35
No minimum hrs/week
|Average national percentage on-call firefighter||~33%||~80%|
“The Netherlands are paying for firefighters to attend incidents”
If you follow the money, The Netherlands are paying for firefighters to attend incidents. As a consequence, firefighters in The Netherlands do not require enforcing of minimum weekly contracted hours: they have an incentive to be available when it counts and attend as many incidents as possible. Hence our motto:
“On-call when needed,
free when possible”
UK Fire and Rescue services are paying for firefighters to sit in the HR system. They expect return on the investment of the monthly retainer and are looking for ways to get it. Some enforce the minimum contracted number of hours through the resource management system. However, that system can easily be cheated. For example by remaining on-call with a team of 3 firefighters, rendering the appliance off the run. Or worse, the lack of flexibility forces firefighters to quit, as reported by some fire services. Services have also tried a system with banded hours, effectively enhancing the pay for high-value hours during frequent moments of crewing deficiencies. These moments can change on a weekly basis and trying to capture them in a contract can be daunting.
Right or wrong? Rejecting an incident attendance while on-call
Imagine you are on-call and helping what looks like the month’s best customer in your shop. The alerter goes off… what do you do? One employer will be happy if you go, the other won’t.
Or, having worked hard over the past week you look forward to spending some much needed quality time off with the family. The alerter goes off… what do you do?
Firefighters in The Netherlands are used to receiving the alarm text. This allows them to better balance their work and private commitments with being a firefighter. For example by only having to respond to critical incidents. This increases employers’ support as they are confident their employees are only interrupted when absolutely needed.
Modern Resource Management systems also allow confirming incident attendance through the pager or smartphone. Firefighters now have the chance to confirm (or reject) their attendance at the time of the call. Crew members, Fire Control and station managers get an accurate and real-time insight into the available crew that is responding.
At the time of the call firefighters can see who else is responding. What if this insight would allow firefighters to make an informed decision whether to:
- Accept the call: seeing they are the only available driver
- Stand by: monitoring if the other driver will attend, allowing him to stay and service that high-value customer
- Reject: if unexpected personal or traffic conditions make it impossible to attend
When/if used responsibly, the ability to stand by or reject a call could have a very positive impact on the lives of a firefighter, his/her family, colleagues and employer.
Why not use the other 84% capacity?
In many areas in the UK finding new firefighters is a challenge. Firefighters are recruited in a 4 minute radius around the station. Say they are responding to calls in a 10 minute radius. Simple math shows that we are only using 16% of the potential workforce. Of course the other 84% would not be fast enough to provide immediate cover, but that is not always needed.
We could allow firefighters to be available as (s)lower tier relief and resilience capacity. This offers staff more flexibility to combine being an on-call firefighter with their day-job, and to increase on-call availability with the same human resources. The extra flexibility will offer a welcome new contracting option for many firefighters and their primary employers. In a previous blog post we detailed how Buckinghamshire F&RS have developed this ‘Tiered Response Model’.
The key takeaways for UK Fire & Rescue Services:
- Pay for incident attendance instead of on-call hours
- Allow firefighters to make an informed decision to reject a call
- Offer flexible family and employer friendly contracts