By Bob Herdt
Most fire-service organizations staff their rosters with a few extra people on each shift to accommodate scheduled and unscheduled leaves, thereby avoiding a constant overtime issue. Imagine using those extra people across all three shifts in a dynamic manner as opposed to the static manner they are used when they are assigned to each separate shift. A D-Shift or a flexible shift will allow those individuals on all three traditional shifts to be used when they are actually needed.
Has your organization been faced with the closure of a fire station or a piece of apparatus which resulted in unassigned personnel? The ensuing placement of the affected personnel often presents unique opportunities and challenges. It is fairly easy to move the firefighters to other engines or apparatus, but what of the officers and engineers? Do they just become extras, roving and filling in vacancies as needed? The following information is an innovative and unique scheduling alternative which has proven beneficial for the South Metro Fire Rescue Authority (SMFRA).
SMFRA was created by the consolidation of the Parker (CO) Fire Protection District and South Metro Fire Rescue in Denver, Colorado, both career departments. SMFRA encompasses approximately 180 square miles and provides fire and emergency medical services to approximately 200,000 citizens on the southern edge of Denver. Coverage is provided by 17 stations with approximately 280 uniformed line personnel distributed across the three traditional shifts of A-, B-, and C-Shift. Each shift consists of three battalions.
The merger created a redundancy in service coverage; one community was being covered by two departments. For optimum deployment, two engines were eliminated. The firefighters were easily assigned to other apparatus, and we initially used the six officers and six engineers in a roving or floating capacity throughout the district. This created inefficiency, as quite often highly qualified personnel filled the role of an additional firefighter.
A suggestion was made by one of the engineers, who was also an executive officer of International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 2164, to explore a flexible shift for those 12 individuals. Local 2164 had heard of a similar type program in use by the Colorado Springs (CO) Fire Department and thought it may relate to our situation.
From that conversation, the D-Shift was born at SMFRA. It consists of those roving 12 officers and engineers across A-, B-, and C-Shifts. The context of our staffing model at that time was the use of the Modified Berkley schedule for the A-, B-, and C-Shifts while adhering to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) requirement of working nine- to 24-hour days every 27-day cycle. Individuals assigned to D-Shift were also subject to those same FSLA requirements.
A-, B-, and C-Shifts originally had 93 personnel assigned to each. The creation of D-Shift moved four people from A, B, and C, leaving 89 personnel on each of those shifts and 12 on the D-Shift. Minimum staffing for a given day is 78 personnel; dropping below that number resulted in an overtime situation.
HOW IT WORKS
SMFRA maintains a spreadsheet indicating the known vacancies by position for the A-, B-, and C-Shifts based on vacation time, Workman’s Compensation vacancies, and any leave associated with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Prior to each FSLA period, D-Shift personnel, by group, gather either in person or by a conference call and select the days they would like to work based on those identified needs of the organization, configuring their schedules to match their personal needs. Members must work the required days per FSLA; they are allowed to work a maximum of 72 hours straight and generally must take 48 hours off prior to scheduling themselves for another work day. We discovered D-Shift personnel made every effort to work 48 hours followed by 96 hours off (48/96 schedule), as opposed to the Modified Berkeley model their counterparts on A-, B-, and C-Shift continued to work.
We are in our fourth year of using the D-Shift model, The most significant benefit has been the crew continuity afforded to each station on A-, B-, or C-Shift because the majority of the roving activity has been assumed by D-Shift personnel. This improvement in crew continuity supported the expansion of D-Shift to include paramedics and firefighters. The current D-Shift roster includes 1 battalion chief, 2 captains, 5 lieutenants, 7 engineers, 7 paramedics, and 7 firefighters. SMFRA justified and supported the additional promoted officers and engineers with this type of alternative scheduling; these individuals constantly fill in at a position commensurate with their rank.
For safety reasons, our staffing policy limits the number of personnel for those ranked positions across the district as well as by battalion; the D-Shift model aids in meeting this requirement. Long term absences are filled by D-Shift personnel rather than by temporary promotions, which invariably create a ripple effect across the shifts with the movement of personnel.
We have also seen a reduction in overtime usage; unfortunately, I cannot provide a succinct quantitative analysis demonstrating the savings. However, qualitatively by observation, when we have a dozen or more D-Shift members working on one day and a minimal number the following day who avoid overtime on each day, potential savings have been identified.
We recently moved from the Modified Berkeley Schedule to the 48/96 model. Individuals who felt they may potentially have a negative impact from that change were afforded the opportunity to move to D-Shift. In an effort to alleviate any strain the new schedule may place on them or their families.
As with any new program, its success rests on the personnel who complete their task. Our D-Shifters range in service time from four to more than 30 years. They all share one common denominator—flexibility—although not everyone is comfortable living out of their vehicle. They elected to move to the D-shift for a variety of reasons including the need to accommodate reserve military commitments, flexibility with child care, a working spouse in the fire service, and an opportunity to see and work throughout the entire district including the busier and slower stations.
The officers all have tenure in their positions which includes two former training officers, all of whom are confident individuals and possess the ability to quickly read and lead the crew they are working with on that day or tour. The engineers are extremely talented and capable with the variety of apparatus including engines, aerials, tenders, and specialty units throughout the district. The paramedics and firefighters compliment each crew and officer they support each work day.
The program’s longevity is a testament to the personnel’s abilities and commitment; nine of the original 12 officers and engineers are still D-Shift members. All D-Shift members recognize and support the shift’s mission to “leave it better than you found it,” and to subscribe to the notion that they are much more than a substitute for that day.
Bob Herdt is a 33-year fire service veteran and a battalion chief for the South Metro Fire Rescue Authority, which serves an area of approximately 176 square miles in portions of Colorado’s Douglas and Arapahoe Counties. Herdt has an MS degree in organizational leadership, a BS in public administration, and an AA in fire science.