The longest four minutes

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An emergency call is received by Fire Control. The fire chief arrives at the station 80 seconds after receiving the call. The clock keeps ticking – closing in on 3 minutes. Some crew members who were supposed to be available haven’t shown up yet. The fire chief starts worrying. “Where are they? Are they coming? Should we call them or leave?” Adrenalin is at its peak. After 4 minutes, Fire Control has no option but to call a neighboring fire station and deploy alternative resources. The process starts all over again, with an obvious negative impact on the response time.

Firefighting across the world is based on two fundamental concepts: making the best use of available resources, and making informed operational decisions. But how can fire chiefs make decisions when they don’t know with certainty whether they will have the ability to crew during an emergency?

After the pager goes off, fire chiefs have very little information about real-time crew availability. Rotas and schedules can give assurances ahead of time. But during an emergency, the level of uncertainty rises every second that goes by without having a full crew.

There’s an average period of just four minutes for a crew to assemble starting at the time of alert. A fairly insignificant length of time, you would think, but for the waiting fire chief and crew members already in attendance, these can seem like the longest four minutes. A situation made even more stressful when responding to critical incidents.

Fire chiefs only have four minutes to assemble a crew

Increased Response Times

Last year, the UK government’s figures showed response times were at a 20 year high. This can be attributed to a number of reasons: a reduction in the number of whole-time firefighters, increased traffic congestion, and station closures; to mention a few.

But the key question is: How much of this is due to retained firefighters failing to respond?

At the critical four minute mark, fire control calls with the dreaded question: “Are you going to be able to crew?”

All too often the answer is: “We should be able to, because the schedule shows we have enough people on call, but we don’t currently have a full crew!”

To the fire chief, this question can be as daunting as the four minute wait. But in truth, how can you answer with confidence?

Accuracy of Information

In most cases, the fire chief knows who will show up to attend an incident based on the firefighters’ schedules. These schedules show who is supposed to be available at the time of the call.  They do not, however, consider dynamic complications, such as:

  • Have personnel remembered they are on call?
  • Is their schedule up to date?
  • Did personnel hear the pager going off?
  • Have they been urgently called away last minute, without the chance to update their availability?
  • Have personnel encountered traffic or suffered a mechanical breakdown?

The usual way of solving this, is for fire chiefs to call their missing staff, text them, or paging them again. None of these methods provide certainty and they definitely don’t decrease stress levels. On the contrary. In doing so, precious time is taken away from planning and preparation for the incident. Even worse, it requires firefighters to use their phone or pager while driving.

So how can fire chiefs be confident about the ability to assemble a full crew?

Overcoming The Uncertainty

FireServiceRota has the ability to provide this information. It does this in two distinct, but complementary ways.

First, it requests all on-call personnel to confirm they are responding. This is as easy for them as pressing a button on their phone. Second, it tracks the position of responding crew to provide information about their ETA. This gives peace of mind and accountability to the organization for those personnel who are responding.

In doing so, FireServiceRota gives managers clear and up to date information. This allows them to make informed decisions about whether to wait for additional personnel, to alert off-duty personnel, or – in the worst case – to call Fire Control with the request to alert a neighboring fire station.  

By using FireServiceRota’s confirmation of incident attendance, a response can be guaranteed, response times reduced, and the longest four minutes become a little shorter.

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