Scheduling Tools Solve Unique Challenges in the Firehouse

Posted on December 10, 2020
Tags: Fire

A firefighter knows going into his or her career that shift work in the fire industry is anything but typical. Long and varied hours, time away from home, and emergency call-ins and holdovers can be common; firefighters and their families make their best of this work-life balance.

However, today fire departments are being asked to do more and more, often with fewer resources. While populations continue to grow, budgets are often held level or even reduced. Departments already short-staffed must face hard decisions about staying OSHA-compliant and looking for ways to stop turnover in an already stressful job. Managers and officers must be at the top of their games regarding scheduling, compliance, and employee communication.

Complexities of Fire Shift Work

Unlike other industries with straightforward work schedules, fire departments must ensure they have the properly trained employees required for each shift, piece of equipment, or response type. They must carefully consider PTO and overtime, and specific rules regarding hours and certification simply cannot be bent. Additionally, quick and clear communication is crucial in an industry where shifts must always be filled, and the department must always be ready to respond.

In the past, managers and officers may have cobbled together their painstaking tools of managing rolling shifts, PTO requests, and open slots. Between paper notes, Excel, and numerous emails and texts, they pulled together a stressful and less-than-efficient system for keeping the department running.

However, as more fire-specific technology is being developed to optimize a station’s operations, those in charge of managing shifts and schedules can leverage scheduling software to increase efficiencies, job satisfaction, and – ultimately – crew and community safety.

For example, ESO Scheduling is a robust employee scheduling and timekeeping software tool that manages a fire department’s workforce more efficiently than ever. It offers dashboards, drag-and-drop scheduling, flexible time-clock options, ad hoc shift creation, and employee text blasts, all helpful in addressesing the most common pain points of managing shifts in a fire station.

Clear Lines of Communication

Communication is key when running any type of business, but it is crucial to run a fire operation. If an employee calls out sick or requests vacation time, they need to effectively communicate this to their managers so it can be tracked. During particularly busy months – or worldwide health crisis and pandemic response – all hands are on deck and must be kept in the loop with protocol updates, open shift notifications, and health alerts.

ESO Scheduling communication tools are especially helpful in keeping lines open between managers and team members. The message center presents a comprehensive set of tools for sending messages to individuals, along with a full set of filters to narrow group messages to supervisors, medics, and dynamic message groups. Messages can be sent via text message and/or email, along with being sent to the employee’s ESO Scheduling mailbox. No text or email address, no problem.

When employees submit requests for a change in their schedule, supervisors and managers are automatically notified through the scheduling tool. Once managers make a decision, messages are then sent to employees with the outcome. This helps alleviate some of the back-and-forths when it comes to PTO requests, unexpected sick time, and last-minute callouts.

Additionally, background housekeeping tasks run at night, sending messages to employees and supervisors regarding expiring certifications, vehicle notifications, scheduling statuses, and more.

Automated Shift Assignment

For fire departments, filling an open shift must be completed with the right person; certifications and equipment knowledge must be considered to ensure compliance is met. However, scheduling software can make this easy and intuitive using a “best fit” feature.

Launching from all schedule management views – including the monthly calendar, the schedule worksheet, and the grid – the feature compares availability, department and district filters, and multiple sort features. This saves you hours of headache when working on your crew scheduling.

Additionally, the Direct Response feature allows field employees to click a link from a text and/or email and submit their interest in working the open shift. Once requests are submitted, supervisors and managers can simply select the employee best fit to work the shift and confirm.

Certification Tracking

As more and more fire departments offer EMS services, it is more important than ever to ensure you have the right staff assigned to the right shifts. You must now ensure that you not only have team members certified as drivers and firefighters but as paramedics or EMTs

ESO Scheduling automates certification tracking for all required certifications and licenses, with an unlimited number of certification records managed for every employee. At setup, the software can import certification dates for every employee, but crew members also can take a picture of their current or renewed certification to submit to their profile. The records may contain license numbers, effective dates, expiration dates, and notes.

When certifications are nearing expiration, employees and supervisors receive messages with the pending expiration information. They are also displayed on the self-service dashboard for employees to see them as soon as they log in to the system. For a snapshot of operations, the comprehensive certification reports can be filtered and tailored for your department.

In addition to notifications for expired certifications, ESO Scheduling smart time clocks can also prevent employees from punching into their shift if there is a missing required certification for a specific shift. This prevents any compliance violations and ensures your shifts are filled with properly trained staff.

Empowering Your Workforce

Keeping your department ready to respond to any call starts with your schedule. Utilizing powerful tools that make your employees’ communication and management more straightforward and efficient means you have more insight and control into your operations. Keeping your employees better informed – and making it easier for them to communicate with you – aids in job satisfaction and fights the burnout that so many first responders are facing today.

Scheduling tools help you remain better informed and better prepared for any challenge they might come your way, whether from the economy, the CDC, or local fire emergencies.

Learn more about how scheduling software for fire departments can make a difference in your operations and shift management with an ESO Scheduling interactive product tour.