Over the last few years, it has been difficult not to notice the government’s budget cuts to the Fire and Rescue Services.
As a result of these cuts, the FRS are struggling to maintain the same level of whole-time firefighters, and as they continue, it will prove even more difficult in the future. This raises the question, is the current system maintainable?
This is not a recent issue. In 2013, Sir Ken Knight, a retired firefighter who was Chief Fire Officer for the London Fire Brigade, released his report entitled “Facing the Future: Findings from the review and operations in fire and rescue authorities in England” in which he highlighted how things had changed in the last decades.
“Deaths from fires at home are at an all time low; incidents have reduced by 40 per cent in the last decade, but expenditure and firefighter numbers remain broadly the same.” This means that the current demand for firefighters and the incidents they attend has changed.
A necessary change
Considering this in light of the aforementioned budget cuts, fire services should rearrange the way they respond to emergencies. One of the key findings in Sir Ken’s report was that “increasing the total ‘on-call’ firefighters nationally by just 10 percent could provide annual savings of up to £123 million”.
While there has been significant debate about the exact height of this figure, similar transitions in other countries have shown significant savings.
Even though an on-call firefighter is equally qualified as a whole-time firefighter, the main difference is that while a whole-time firefighter is available to respond in a matter of seconds, there is a few minute delay for an on-call firefighter to arrive from work or home at the station.
It is obviously a topic open for debate, but the truth is that the system needs to change under the downward pressure of the budget cuts, and the increased difficulty of balancing life, work, and responsibilities as a retained duty system firefighter in our modern world. There is a need to find a suitable and cost effective solution to keep sufficient staff available and ready for emergency response. It is true that the response time is a concern for station managers if they are to increasingly rely on on-call firefighters.
At FireServiceRota, we understand that this transition creates new challenges. We do our best to address these. For example, our systems are designed to instantly warn firefighters when they travel too far from the station while on call. We are all human, and sometimes we forget to book off before going on that family trip on Sunday afternoon, or if work demands that we travel a lot during a normal weekday.
Additionally, when the pager goes off, FireServiceRota asks on-call crew to confirm their attendance. It then displays estimated times of arrival on a big monitor in the fire station, so managers can be secure in the knowledge they’ll have a full crew complement in minutes.
In general, techniques like these can make the challenges resulting from transitioning to more on-call firefighters less daunting.
We’ve already talked about some benefits of giving more flexibility to retained firefighters, and in our next post, we will talk about volunteer firefighters in the land of tulips, wooden shoes and windmills (The Netherlands) and investigate what can be learnt from them.
As one final remark, we think that just like technology and society, Fire Services need to evolve to address the challenges of modern, dynamic and hectic life. Flexible planning and scheduling software can help, but is certainly not a panacea.
Facing the future: Findings from the review of efficiencies and operations in fire and rescue authorities in England. Sir Ken Knight. May 2013. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/200092/FINAL_Facing_the_Future__3_md.pdf