For many agencies, fire department staffing takes up a great deal of time and energy. Getting the right number of people on shift and making sure that rigs meet minimum staffing requirements can be a huge hassle.
As we approach the new year, it is always a good time to evaluate what in your department could use some improvements. Here, we’ll discuss three fire department staffing practices that agencies need to get rid of as they modernize and innovate moving forward.
1) Checking Rotations at the Station
In today’s world, we have complex technology that fits in our pocket. With 77% of US adults owning a smartphone, there is no reason that departments should require firefighters to go to the station to check their monthly rotation. This practice is outdated, impractical, and generally makes life more difficult for firefighters at all ranks and seniority levels.
Instead, many departments now send messages to firefighters’ email accounts or smartphones, so that they can check their schedule from any location. This makes the entire process more efficient and accessible.
Some fire departments will use crew scheduling apps to make rostering even simpler. With these smartphone applications, scheduling administrators do not even need to send out a mass email or message. Instead, firefighters can log into the app and check their rotation whenever they want, from any device.
Forcing your crews to come into the station eats into firefighters’ personal off-the-clock time. Generally, departments will have happier and more productive staff if they enable responders to check their schedules without having to be in the physical building. If your agency is still requiring firefighters to come by to see when they’re working, this is a fire staffing practice you should consider dropping or changing in the new year.
2) Choosing Vacation via Paper Calendars
Another frustrating part of fire department staffing can be choosing vacation and paid time off. When some of our staff members worked as firefighters, there was a physical paper calendar that was passed around the station, based on seniority. When the calendar got to you, you could see which days had already been chosen. You would then mark your next preferred options based on what was left. It could take days or even weeks to cycle through everyone.
If you needed a specific day off for a pre-planned vacation or special event, it was incredibly stressful to wait for the calendar to get to you and see if your dates were still available. This process is both frustrating and a waste of valuable time.
While some departments still use a paper calendar, many are turning to more innovative and practical ways to choose and schedule vacation. Some agencies are adopting firefighter scheduling software as a tool to speed up the process. Instead of using a paper calendar, firefighters simply log into the online system to choose their days off. Most digital scheduling programs can still be configured based on seniority or a department’s business rules.
Instead of taking days or weeks, allocating vacation time for an entire department can be done in a matter of hours. If your vacation scheduling process is still being done on paper, it’s time to look into other more efficient options for choosing PTO.
3) Individually Calling for Overtime Bids
When an agency has a breach, that slot needs to be filled as soon as possible. Otherwise, there may not be enough firefighters on duty to fully protect their communities.
This can lead to overtime opportunities. However, overtime hiring processes can be complicated and time-consuming. Often, overtime processes are based on departmental policies. Sometimes, agencies have strict rules on who qualifies for certain positions. To find qualified staff to fill the breach, some departments are forced to manually call each firefighter in the list and see if he/she is available.
As you can imagine, this process can be slow if the first couple of people contacted are unavailable to take the shift. This means that the breach continues, and some rigs may be unable to leave the fire station and respond to calls.
Instead, many agencies are using automated hiring software to process overtime bookings efficiently. This software can quickly identify which employees are eligible for overtime and send a message to each staff member and check their availability. Once someone accepts, that person is added to the roster for that day immediately. With a computer doing the work, the system can find the right crews and get firefighters scheduled without taking time out of a battalion chief or scheduling administrators’ day.
Bidding and assigning overtime becomes easy, and agencies can meet minimum fire department staffing requirements.
With these systems available, departments can make their overtime bidding processes more efficient and effective. Manually calling each employee is a practice that it’s time to give up.
Fire departments and other public safety agencies are continually working to improve their operations. One area where we see several outdated practices is fire department staffing. By eliminating unsafe, inefficient, and impractical scheduling tactics, departments can save time and money. In addition, they can implement rostering policies that truly benefit their staff and position themselves as innovators in the public safety industry.
If your department is doing any of the crew scheduling practices identified above, consider if it’s time for a change. Many departments are moving away from pen and paper to affordable online scheduling options, and it may be time for your agency as well.
Adashi is a leading provider of technology to public safety agencies worldwide.