The effective provision and management of on-site fire safety, prevention, response and protection is a core responsibility of operators of hazardous high-risk critical infrastructure and industrial manufacturing facilities around the world. Such services are typically found at airports, refineries and petrochemical plants, power stations and nuclear facilities, mines, manufacturing sites and port facilities.

Driven by legislative requirements and international fire safety standards, many organizations are required to maintain and operate an on-site Rescue and Fire Fighting Service (RFFS) or for airports, an Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) Service in order to meet their compliance requirements.

Legislative Compliance

Failure to fully comply can expose these organizations to the risk of serious financial liability in the event of an incident, Failure to fully comply can expose these organizations to the risk of serious financial liabilityas insurers demand that risk is minimised and mitigated before they will provide cover for the site and its operations.

Notwithstanding the availability of local or municipal resources to respond in the event of an emergency or serious incident, the RFFS and ARFF provision available to commercial organizations generally falls into two main options; an employed service or an outsourced service.

The Decision To outsource

While many organizations choose to invest in their own Fire and Rescue Service, which includes the provision of a Fire Station(s), personnel, vehicles and equipment, others have turned to outsourced service providers to enable them to meet their operational and compliance needs.

So what are the factors that influence a decision to outsource and how do organizations choose between the two options?

Managing risk and improving resilience

The requirement and resources for an on-site fire and rescue service will be determined chiefly by the type of activity that the organization is involved in at each site or facility, the assessment of the risks associated with the processes or activities that occur on-site and the impact that any emergency incident may have on the business, its employees and on the surrounding communities.

Ultimately, the motivation for investment in an on-site fire and rescue resource is rooted in the avoidance of loss, which can be both organizational, reputational and/or personal in nature and in a need to ensure the on-going stability, security and resilience of the facility and processes in question. But rather like when an insurance policy is purchased, one sincerely hopes that the Fire and Rescue Service will never need to be called upon to be utilized in a real-life emergency.

A decision to outsource may be driven by purely financial motives as organizations seek to reduce costs and enhance shareholder value or by strategic and tactical factors as the business seeks to re-engineer or re-focus itself.

Outsourcing enables companies to focus on their core business processes while delegating essential but non-core processes to external specialist providers

Recruiting, training, resourcing, and supporting an employed on-site fire and rescue service is an expensive indirect operational cost for the business, consuming cash resources that could possibly be better invested elsewhere.

The day to day management of an employed Fire, Rescue and Safety service can also sap the organization of time and energy that, while imperative to the safe, legal and ultimately the profitable operation of the facility, is not actually a core function of the business itself.

Outsourcing enables companies to focus on their core business processes while delegating essential but non-core processes to external specialist providers. This releases internal resources that can be put to more effective use for other purposes, leading to greater efficiency and competitiveness.

Outsourcing enables companies to focus on their core business processes while delegating essential but non-core processes to external specialist providers

The question to be asked is, could an outsourced service provider deliver the required functions, tasks and compliance, maintain and improve site safety, respond effectively to any emergency incidents and add value to the organization at a more cost-effective rate than directly employing the on-site team?

When properly executed, outsourcing the on-site Fire and Rescue Service can have a defining impact on the company’s revenue recognition and can deliver significant savings through lower operational and labour costs.

Specialist knowledge, skills and expertise

Organizations cannot realistically be experts in every business function, process and discipline, it is simply far too expensive. By utilizing outsourced service providers, companies can leverage a global knowledge base and resource centre, accessing world class capabilities, skills and expertise that they may have been precluded from previously.

Managed FRS service providers often have access to a wider, more highly skilled and diverse talent pool than the client themselves and will already have in place the requisite interview and selection processes designed to select only the strongest, most appropriately qualified and experienced staff.

Shared experiences coupled with specialist skills, learning and best working practices also enable the outsourced service provider to add value and resilience to and further reduce risk within the client’s operation.

Shared responsibilities and liabilities

Although all organizations must maintain a duty of care to operate in a safe and environmentally responsible manner, delegating fire and rescue service responsibilities to external providers can release companies of the day to day functions that are difficult to manage and control, while still realizing their benefits and upholding compliance.

Outsourced FRS service providers generally are much better at deciding how to avoid risk in their areas of expertise

As specialists in their field, outsourced FRS service providers generally are much better at deciding how to avoid risk in their areas of expertise than perhaps a fully employed on-site team might be. This is because the incentive to deliver a high level of service and to maintain their professional reputation while remaining profitable is potentially stronger for the outsourced provider.

A further consideration if, unfortunately something does go wrong, may be that the responsibility and possible consequential contractual liability might well rest in whole or in part with the service provider, rather than the contracting client themselves.

what are the potential negatives?

Violations of confidentiality and intellectual property are of increasing concern to companies. This is particularly true for clients that outsource to providers from countries that may not have the same type or standards of confidentiality laws that prevail in their home jurisdiction.

One way to mitigate this issue is to have strong confidentiality clauses contained within all commercial contractual documentation and employee contracts, and to make security of data and information a key performance indicator within any outsource contract.

Outsourcing may in some cases result in job eliminations or employees leaving for other personal reasons, which in turn can have a negative effect on morale, loyalty and productivity among the personnel who remain.

Human Resources In FRS

In most cases for Fire and Rescue Service outsourcing, human resource levels are already stipulated based on the site or facility risk profile and therefore it is more likely that existing employees will simply be transferred to a new contract of employment with the new service provider, albeit perhaps on slightly different terms.

There are also often hidden costs that, if not managed correctly, can quickly negate many of the anticipated savings

Although most companies see an immediate benefit to the bottom line when outsourcing, there are also often hidden costs that, if not managed correctly, can quickly negate many of the anticipated savings.

It should not be underestimated that, as in any period of change, increased ancillary costs such as travel and related expenses can accrue as employees travel back and forth for training and other meetings, particularly during the mobilization phase of the new contract.

Making your mind up

The decision to outsource the Fire and Rescue Service for a high-risk site or facility should never be made lightly. A thorough and detailed examination of the associated costs and benefits must be investigated before a go/no go decision is reached.

However, if a decision to outsource is positive, then careful selection of your partner organization, taking account of both the hard and soft delivery factors for each facility, is of critical importance.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version

Author profile

Chris Thain Business Development Manager - Fire Protection Services, G3 Systems Limited

In case you missed it

Technology Is Changing How We Plan For The Future Of Wildfires
Technology Is Changing How We Plan For The Future Of Wildfires

As we continue to settle into our new norm brought on by COVID-19, it’s become hard to imagine what the world will look like on the other side. If ever there were a clearer definition of a paradigm shift in the making, it’s this time. Yet, it’s not the only paradigm that has shifted in the last few years.  As the climate has continued to change, helping to create more fuel for wildfires, we’re experiencing compounding changes at a global scale. And, the light at the end of the tunnel for COVID-19 might just be another big fire season. Yet, this fire season will be different.  New ways to respond Although we’ll almost certainly continue to act as communities, helping each other through the next calamities, what’s clear is that we’re going to require new ways to respond. Knowing what we know now about natural disasters, like fires, floods, and hurricanes, as well as our current experience with a global pandemic, if we’ve learned nothing else it’s that we must begin to design for disaster.  Designing for disaster is about planning for the paradigm to shift once again This is not about designing for panic and fear. Rather, designing for disaster is about planning for the paradigm to shift once again. For instance, with the 2020 fire season right around the corner, now is a good time to start taking stock and creating plans for how to deal with it. Unlike the last few fire seasons, this one will be different.  According to the “Chief's Letter of Intent for Wildland Fire – 2020”, the US Fire Service will be changing its “fire management options during the COVID-19 pandemic across the board to adjust to this unprecedented challenge.” The objectives laid out in this letter are a reflection of the compounding change we’re seeing, which include “Minimize to the extent feasible COVID-19 exposure and transmission and smoke exposure to firefighters and communities”; “Commit resources only when there is a reasonable expectation of success in protecting life and critical property and infrastructure”; “Encourage innovation and the use of doctrine for local adaptations”; and “Develop methods for broad information sharing given changed conditions”, among others. Planning for uncertainty We must seek to protect lives by developing new ways to work together So, what can we do to plan for this uncertain future? In many ways, the answer is spelled out in this above-mentioned letter. We must seek to protect lives by developing new ways to work together, share information, and plan using innovative tools and methods. Just as we all collectively found Zoom as a great way to connect with our friends, family, and colleagues, during the COVID-19 shelter in place, we’ll begin to use other digital tools to get updates and communicate with emergency responders and the community at large. In fact, there are myriad tools in place, like Nextdoor, Neighbor, and even Facebook, that enable most of us to do this on a regular basis. Likewise, when it comes to planning and communication between first responders, whether they be firefighters, police, paramedics, or emergency management officials, new technologies abound, like Tablet Command, that enable first responders to connect and understand the common operational picture like never before. What’s more, as these technologies continue to scale, they will no doubt connect communities and emergency management personnel (as well as new data sources, like up-to-the-minute satellite imagery) in new ways that enable engagement and planning to occur way before an incident even occurs. In fact, as the world continues to rally around communicating in new ways, new entrants like Zonehaven, a startup based on San Francisco, are doing just this. Using a familiar Google Maps-style interface and data-driven approach to engage communities and first responders around evacuation planning, defensible space, right-of-way issues and neighborhood exercises, Zonehaven is focused on helping entire communities communicate and respond to disasters, like wildfires, even before the initial spark. Drive for change And it’s not just technology companies that are driving this change. In wildfire-prone communities, like San Mateo County, officials are bringing in new technologies, like Zonehaven and others, to “provide access to cutting-edge technology that allows emergency planners and local officials to better understand a community’s risk and help residents plan safe evacuation routes.” In essence, by supporting hyperlocal pre-planning, early detection, community collaboration and real-time detection/alerting, San Mateo County is actively redesigning how the county and all of its constituent services, from firefighters to police to emergency management and even parking control, are planning for a future where wildfires and other emergencies are more abundant and communities more engaged and informed.  As change continues to compound on itself, creating entirely new norms, it’s imperative that we don’t lose sight of what makes us human. We have the capacity to plan, communicate, innovate, and build tools meant to help us stay one step ahead of change. After all, the more things change, the more they’ll stay the same.

Fire Service Likely To Suffer As Government Finances Stumble Due To The COVID-19 Pandemic
Fire Service Likely To Suffer As Government Finances Stumble Due To The COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic presents new economic challenges to county and municipal governments. Fire departments are likely to be impacted as local governments respond to the economic downturn with spending freezes, hiring freezes and spending cuts. Some local governments are hoping for help from the state and/or federal level. Although some governments have “rainy day funds” to address economic downturns, not all of them do. Furthermore, the extent of the current economic crisis may exceed our worst fears. Proposed budget cuts for some fire and EMS departments are in the 10% to 25% range. As the new fiscal year begins in July, many local governments will need to approve a spending plan for next year by June 30. public safety agencies Although public safety agencies have historically been protected by local governments during economic downturns, the severity of the current downturn may change the approach. Lower sales tax collection is expected to be a major impact, although actual information on revenue levels can lag for three months because state governments collect the taxes and then return a share to cities and counties. The Southern California city is like many others around the United States that rely on sales tax and hotel taxes For many, the numbers for April will be available in July. For example, Hemet, California, estimates it has lost 34% of its sales tax revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic because consumer spending is down, and many businesses are closed to the public. Loss of hotel taxes is another hardship. The Southern California city is like many others around the United States that rely on sales tax and hotel taxes. replacing ageing fire engines The League of California Cities says COVID-19 will rob the state’s 482 cities and towns of about $6.7 billion in revenue over the next two fiscal years. Michael Pagano, Director of the Government Finance Research Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says that municipalities that depend on sales tax revenue are being hit hard and quickly. In contrast, those that rely on property taxes will not feel an immediate impact, he says. The fire service in Hemet is being affected. Last year, the city paid $1 million in overtime. Belt-tightening will eliminate such expenditures this year. The city will also likely delay filling some open positions and will replace only one aging fire engine rather than two. They will be buying less safety and radio gear. Victoria, Texas, is another city among the many feeling the impact of lost sales tax revenue. fire fighter unions “It’s not an option for people to not get their trash picked up,” Victoria City Manager Jesus Garza told the Victoria Advocate. “It’s not an option for our police and firefighters to not work." With no definite end in sight, there are no easy solutions. Some scenarios, such as a salary freeze, would impact members of fire fighter unions. The president of the Baltimore’s International Association of Fire Fighters Local 734 says such discussions are premature. We know that the city has to balance their budget by July and that everyone is being hit hard by this global pandemic" “We know that the city has to balance their budget by July and that everyone is being hit hard by this global pandemic,” Richard Altieri II, president of the local fire fighters union, told the Baltimore Sun. “But to suggest this sacrifice of our members, who are on the front lines every day, is unacceptable and disheartening.” Baltimore has considered about $11 million in total reductions that may affect first responders. Coronavirus Relief Package California Gov. Gavin Newsom has warned that layoffs for police and firefighters could happen unless Washington provides financial help to state governments. The U.S. House of Representatives approved a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package that included $875 billion in state and federal aid. However, the Democratic-authored bill is going nowhere in the U.S. Senate. “[There will be] fewer firefighters and police officers to answer emergency calls, reduced garbage pickup frequency, and limited staff for required inspections, processing business license, and permitting,” Nicolas Romo, a League of California Cities representative, told the Sacramento Bee.

IAFC Promotes Awareness Of The Danger Of Heart Attacks
IAFC Promotes Awareness Of The Danger Of Heart Attacks

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) is promoting awareness of the danger of heart attacks in the fire service. A toolkit provided by the IAFC includes information and resources to assist members and fire departments when responding to on-duty or duty-related cardiac events. The international campaign, titled ‘If You Don’t Feel Well, Don’t Make It Your Farewell,’ offers standard operating procedures (SOPs) including an example policy that departments can use to outline their actions and processes, and the department’s response to on-duty injuries and illness. Acute coronary syndrome An administrative checklist enumerates areas of concern and highlights a standardized approach to cardiac events. It is important to be proactive and put thoughtful guiding documents in place so that members of an organization know the ‘rules of the game.’ Existence of proper processes, policies and procedures can reduce stress, improve morale, and encourage members to speak up when they experience an event of if they know someone who does. The most common warning sign for men and women is chest pain or discomfort Among the training tools is a PDF that lists ‘the heart attack warning signs.’ The most common warning sign for men and women is chest pain or discomfort, but a heart attack may not be sudden or very painful. Information is also provided on ‘acute coronary syndrome,’ a term used to describe conditions associated with sudden, reduced blood flow to the heart. There is also information on treatments for a heart attack, which may vary according to the type of heart attack (i.e., whether a complete or partial blockage of a coronary artery). Identifying risk factors Other information includes ‘assessing cardiovascular risk’ and screening to identify risk factors and lifestyle habits that can increase the likelihood of cardiovascular disease. A survey by the IAFC of firefighters who have experienced a cardiac incident provides interesting insights: 47% of firefighters said they experienced a symptom that is not among the typical signs of a heart attack. 20.67% of firefighters took themselves to the hospital; 41% were taken by emergency medical services. 63.3% of firefighters returned to work (full duty). 40% were between the ages of 46 and 55. 68% were career firefighters; 22.67% were volunteer firefighters. “Almost half of all firefighter deaths each year are cardiac-related,” says Fire Chief Gary Ludwig, IAFC President and Chairman of the Board. “Many who have experienced but survived a cardiac incident have reported not feeling right, not feeling well, or that something is wrong,” added Ludwig, fire chief of the Champaign (Illinois) Fire Department.  Changing a culture “The best way to change the culture of ignoring warning signs, which are not always chest tightness and shortness of breath, is through education and awareness. If you’re a first responder and your body is signaling to you a feeling that you have never experienced before with extreme fatigue and other symptoms, you need to act and those around you need to act,” said Ludwig, who has worked in the fire and emergency service for more than 42 years. “If a firefighter tells you ‘something is wrong’ or ‘I don’t feel right’ or any similar statement, do not tell them to go home or lay down in the bunk hall. Their body is sending them a signal that something could be seriously wrong.”