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Changes to RDS Working Practices


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Evening, One for the RDS members amongst us (or those with retained experience)...

Over the next few months my brigade are going to be running a review into the way our RDS stations and watches are run. To this end they are asking for any ideas or feedback we might be able to provide them on changes/improvements that could be made. To get the most out of the process I though I’d throw a request out to all of you, to see if your services have made any changes to your working practices that have had a positive impact? Also any ideas you would have to make the retained duty system more successful/workable would be gratefully recieved?

The most obvious solutions seem to revolve around pay, and it will be central to our discussions I’m sure, but I’m looking for some of the other factors too such as contracts, availability, engagement with employers etc that you feel might benefit other brigades. 

Thanks in advance. 

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Is this Covid related or separate? And I guess any ideas submitted would be dependant on the way your RDS is currently run? Contracts/hours required etc

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Thanks for the reply. This is unrelated to COVID, looking at ways to change the way RDS staff are treated going forwards.

Apologies for the lack of info regarding our current running practices. At present we run a relatively ‘traditional’ system of 100% and 75% contracts (plus a newly introduced prime contract, aimed at staff offering desirable [daytime] hours, who cannot fulfil the hours required of the other contract types). We also don’t operate a salary scheme yet. This is something I’m interested to hear more about as I have heard contradictory reports of their popularity/success. 

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I think there are 2 elements to this. The availability flexibility and the contract hours.

I've worked a couple of different systems at different times, a while back. There was no availability system and if you went out of town then you turned your tally over at the station. 1st pager ring, you went if free, 2nd pager ring you put your beer down and off you went...  If the pump really couldn't go out, then you had to call control.  You had to make 75% of your shouts over 12 weeks and that was the only requirements.

Now we have Gartan availability. Everything is real time and i feel that side of it works well. you can book on and off as you need assuming that there crew available. The unwritten rule is we can drop the 2nd pump if needed. But thou shall not drop the 1st for anything other than an emergency. The contracts are 120 and 90. We believe that they are averaged over 12 weeks, but no one is actually sure. Its obvious to all if your not toeing the line and its agreed you should leave.

The elements of flexibility are important to me  I sometimes work away with my work, so most weeks i'll do 130-140, but on the weeks i'm away it could be 50. So normally average 125 odd. So i need to be able to maintain that 12 week average. The other thing is the ability to book on and off as needed. When at home/office I tend to spend my time in meetings a lot, so need to retain the ability to book off as needed. I.E. its a client meeting, or it's a less important meeting that's become an ohhh crap, that's a sh%t storm type of meeting.  I'm sure many other occupations require this element. Quite a few trades folk need to head to the city to get materials, kids need looking after etc. I've heard about the salary model, where you don't get paid for shouts, but you need to book you hours a week in advance. The salary model sounds fine, but if that short notice flexibility is taken away, then it couldn't work for me and I'd need to leave.


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I’m not sure what the 100% and 75% contracts are. But if you can, have a look at the humberside model. There are several different contracts with different bands. I left a few years ago but when I was there it was as follows:

100 hours a week, 85 hours, and 70 hours.

all have 4 bands of prime, a, b & c. 

100 prime would be the highest possible contract with 70c being the lowest.

take a 70 prime as an example. This would be 70 hours a week overall, with 50 specified hours -  all given during the working week and the weekend. The remaining 20 hours are given whenever suits the employee i.e on a night during the week when pretty much everyone is on call. This averaged out over an 8 week period. I was at a 2 pump station with around 25 firefighters and we generally had both pumps available most of the time, apart from the obvious times like a Saturday night/ Sunday morning when we would occasionally just have one available.

with regards to pay each firefighter was on a retainer fee dependent on their contract, with payment up front for drill nights and a certain amount of incident hours. Anything above that such as extra training and incident hours would then be paid as a bonus. 

I do think RDS are often expected to give extra effort on the basis of good will rather than always getting paid fairly, but it’s an old system that was built on the reliability and good will of firefighters rather than a pay structure. As the job changes I think it’s only right that this gets reviewed, particularly if the RDS model is going to continue to work in providing availability and retaining staff.

i have heard of some services operating a shift based availability system where firefighters are rostered on to specific days rather than just fitting their hours in around their primary employment, but I would imagine this demands a much higher level of pay as it reduces flexibility and people’s ability to book and off. However the plus side to this is that it would provide guaranteed availability, as the way RDS stations are currently run in most cases will never guarantee 100% availability.

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Attracting people seems to be the main problem in my county, and I think the amount of cover required for the financial return is the main thing that puts people off, as it’s just not worth it for many.

So either upping the money or lowering the hours required would help attract new Ffs (which won’t happen especially higher pay) 

If the service could get the recruitment right, flexibility would be the other key factor in my opinion. 

My station allows us to book off and on as as we want as long It doesn’t affect the pump and we have one of the highest availability %  in the county. 

The only other thing they could do is pay people for any extra hours they give which put the pump on but again I can’t see this happening.

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As others have said, improvements have to look at some combination of lower hours that still retain a sufficient degree of flexibility to allow those offering availability from work or who are self employed to book off when absolutely necessary and improved pay.  Unless they massively improve pay then flexibility is a must as on call will always come second to the main job that pays the mortgage when their needs clash and push comes to shove.

 I am on a quiet, single appliance station and it is hard to motivate people to stay around to keep the pump on when chances are they won’t miss anything and all the reward they will get for staying on call will be the 50p an hour Retaining Fee.  One option that I think might help in my situation is to have it where if you make your contracted hours for the month, then they guarantee a minimum payment equivalent to so many turnouts (argue for whatever figure is appropriate).  If you are busy enough some months to exceed this amount then any extra is paid under standard turnout and attendance payments.  The argument here is that it’s just as arduous and restrictive being tied to the station and alerter regardless of how many calls you get but quiet stations currently get few calls and little or no financial reward.

It’s also about being flexible in other areas, some of which aren’t even contractual issues.  Why insist people only contracted for nights and weekends attend training courses Monday to Friday days?  Why insist a compulsory bit of training is 4 hours but schedule it in such a way that people have to lose a whole day off work to attend?  Why expect on call to put up with sub-standard station facilities?  All these just irritate, discourage recruits and eventually act as arguments in favour when people are thinking of leaving.

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I've not got any knowledge of the new type salary scheme that some RDS have in place, but the system of annual retainer fee, disturbance allowance for each shout and then hourly pay for drill, training, shouts and routines etc seems to work well still. If you don't work at a station that goes out the doors regularly then I agree, the trade off between commitment and the reward of the job and money wise makes it a challenge to retain people. 

Having flexibility to book on/off, opportunities to do wholetime shifts and and brigades letting people join on much smaller contracts can all help with this.

As mentioned above gartan availability crewing gives people the flexibility to make instant bookings as long as crewing allows. We have a recurring eight week pattern and over the course of those eight weeks your hours average out so there is the flexibility to provide no cover at all some weeks. 

The minimum amount of cover you have to give is 40 hours, this has to be key cover though which as you'd expect is either weekdays or weekends. What's good for one station may not be good for another though, so the brigade giving individual stations the power to pick and choose what works for them helps. 

Working practice wise, at larger stations where there are a lot of equipment checks, BA and drivers checks, station cleaning etc you can set up watch systems where the crew are split into four so each get a week and then jobs are divided up between each other and the firefighters can choose what routines they want to do. We've found although there's a bit of admin setting it up, it actually runs better than assigning people to jobs where they might have to come down station 2/3 times a week and then have nothing for months after. 

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Fantastic responses, thanks again!

Flexibility within the contracts offered certainly seems like it needs to be central to our discussions. I know we have lost potentially good recruits in the past due to expecting too much from already busy people. 

We do ahave the ability to change availability at short notice and book off. Rather than Gartan we are using the FireWatch system. Do the other systems utilise an app to alter availability or are you required to log onto your Fire Srevices network?

Also, have any of your brigades come up with any innovative ways to boost recruitment? Employer engagement/incentives, media campaigns etc?

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We, like a number of services, have gone for On Call Liaison Officers who act as a single point of contact for both OiCs of recruiting stations looking for recruitment support and for recruits looking to progress through the process.  It has made it easier to ensure applications are pushed through and applicants are kept informed and feeling engaged.  We have also run employer events where employer’s of on call firefighters are given a bit of a thank you whilst also getting to see more of the good work done by on call staff and we have forged links with a few big businesses such as Tesco who have allowed a number of staff to be released for fire calls.  There is no golden ticket though, on call recruitment and retention is still hard work and even with the improved recruitment, I believe we are still losing more than we recruit overall.

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  • 1 month later...

I’ve recently just started for Derbyshire fire service ‘on call’’. We’re using the Gartan system & use the app to book on & off, I’m contracted to 120 hours but have the flexibility to book on & off if needed ( nipping our of town for materials, picking kids up etc) . 

as a busy self employed trades man this option really helped me commit to the service. Basically rule of thumb as far as I’ve got is if your taking engine off the run then it needs to be booked well in advance ( ie normal working hours booked in so others can try & work round each other) or it’s a emergency. Other than that the flexibility to take a hour here & there is no problem as long as you check who’s on & off prior etc 

just on the app, really easy to use & overall very effective for me not only being able to book off when needed but also make myself available when I’ve finished early etc 

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