Essex Fire saves £1m a year via electronic rota

Essex County Fire & Rescue Service (ECFRS) is saving £980,000 a year by moving all 52 of its stations to an electronic rota book.


Essex County Fire & Rescue Service (ECFRS) is saving £980,000 a year by moving all 52 of its stations to an electronic rota book.

Just a year ago, the service was using an almost entirely paper-based rota system to book shifts for 1,200 operational staff. This meant that all information, for example regarding who was on leave, which qualifications they had and which fire appliances were available, had to be sifted through manually, with the central control team phoning from station to station to figure out where to move resources.

As a result, data was often inaccurate, qualifications were not recorded, people were in the wrong place, leave information was not correct, and even temporary promotion and ranks information was found to be wrong in some places, which affected the quality of mobilisation, according to assistant chief fire officer Paul Hill.

ECFRS decided to adopt SAP software for various aspects of its administration, including its payroll, training and events management, time management, employee and manager self-service, HR management, and SAP WSO Roster project. The final part in the implementation of all these systems was the introduction of the ERB, starting with a pilot in two out of the 52 stations.

A year on, “wholetime firefighters can arrange their rotas two weeks in advance, local managers can organise movement around the service before the shift starts, part-time firefighters can book on or off duty with a text, or check on the internet and see availability for the next 24 hours and arrange their plans around that,” Paul Hill explained.

The project recently won one UK SAP Quality Award (Gold) for Medium Implementation and two EMEA SAP Quality Awards: one gold for innovation and the other silver for ‘medium implementation’.

Hill said: “One of the most significant things for us was actually thinking about how we can change the way we work and behave to fit the system. I get the sense one of the biggest failures with IT implementations is that people think the product should fit them, but perhaps part of SAP’s success is that it drives organisations to think more carefully about how other organisations demonstrate efficiency and help change behaviours and processes to achieve the same success.”

Hill added: “There were struggles along the way, but thanks to the gradual deployment of the new solutions at two stations, then four, then eight, then 16, we learned as we went. And the significant lesson was that if you expose data to the whole organisation, it means it’s just so very obvious when it’s wrong. So data quality is very important.”

Optimising the movement of resources

ECFRS has now reached a point where staff can view the availability of the 1,200 firefighters, their rank and qualifications, which appliances they are using, and where there are spare people, in real time online.

“This allows us to assign people to firefighting vehicles and equipment two shifts in advance. If there are gaps, local managers can run reports, see where spare resources are, phone the station and arrange for them to move,” Hill said.

He continued: “Previously we wasted time moving people around and were not at our optimum for up to six hours a day - 25 percent of the time.

“Having this new system in place means we are now able to focus even more on the speed of mobilising. We want to be able to mobilise exactly the right resources within three seconds of receiving a call, and that means making sure that the crewing of stations, vehicles and specialist equipment is also running at an optimum all the time.”

ECFRS is in the process of installing a new mobilising system that will link to the information from all the SAP products.

Control operators will soon be able to tell where calls come from via mobile and landline interrogation systems, according to Hill, allowing them to map the location of callers.

The system will also automatically flag to firefighting crews and control staff any risk information relevant to the type of incident or gathered from GIS systems, inspections, previous visits and experience they might need to know. This information could be as simple as the weak and strong points of a make and model of a vehicle, to information relating to the inappropriate use of a premises captured by other officers delivering the service’s Fire Safety enforcement work.

Hill said: “We’ve done about 60 percent of the work. Installing systems is not the end, just as buying a fast car doesn’t make you go fast safely. Now it’s all about understanding how we can best assign resources and looking for opportunities to deliver a better or more efficient service.”

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