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IFSJ Exclusive: Available when needed and off duty when possible with Fire Service Rota

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Cor Klaasse Bos, Managing Director at Fire Service Rota talks about the scheduling software that is improving the work-life balance for firefighters

As a child, Cor Klaasse Bos was interested in two things: firefighting and technology. He became a self-taught programmer at the age of 12 which set him on a trajectory for a Masters in Physics at Eindhoven University after which he became a technological consultant. Whilst he was finishing his studies, he took on work at a musical instrument shop whose owner Richard Boerstra also happened to be a manager at the local fire station. This connection would prove instrumental in the creation of what is known today at Fire Service Rota.

During his time at the store, Klaasse Bos had created a spreadsheet which showed the availability of everyone working at the shop. His employer then asked if he could put together a similar organisational system for the local volunteer fire department. Having finished his studies, Klaasse Bos used his self-taught programming skills to invest in a few hundred hours developing a dedicated online tool in 2006. After a few weeks, the first version of Dutch name brand Brandweerrooster, which literally translates to Fire Service Rota, was created.

The platform was designed to allow firefighters to manage their own availability and have a system check whether there would be enough people available to crew a pump of six. It would also allow firefighters to book on when needed and book off when there are enough firefighters available in their station. “That is, in a nutshell, still Fire Service Rota,” says Klaasse Bos.


After its initial success and rollout, the system designed for on call firefighters began to grow, spreading from 10s to 100s of stations in the Netherlands. Six years after starting the company, Klaasse Bos decided to quit his job as a technology consultant and commit to Fire Service Rota full time. His friend Ruben Stranders joined the company and they decided to take it to the next level with plans for international expansion.

“We had a few hundred stations in the Netherlands and we could see the market potential,” he tells. “We wanted to grow outside the Netherlands, and we really wanted to focus on the fire service.” He says they initially considered working with ambulance service and police but ultimately decided to make the fire and rescue service their sole focus.

Their first step into the UK came from a meeting with Mark Woods, a fulltime firefighter in Hampshire who recognised the potential in the software and the flexibility it could provide his team whilst keeping fire engines running. Shropshire Fire and Rescue became the first UK customer for Fire Service Rota. Then came the challenge: adapting the tool designed for on call firefighters for a fulltime fire service.

Shropshire presented the problem that at the end of the year they were faced with a higher demand for firefighters where they needed to cover sick leave and holiday. They wanted to have a tool which would carry over some of the excess capacity from the start of the year to the end of the year and avoid allocating unnecessary overtime.

Building the platform was an ongoing process: “We had to validate what we were building so every two weeks we delivered a new version of our software and they would test it against reality. They would come back with feedback and we would adjust the system,” tells Klaasse Bos. In less than a year they had a product that worked.


In 2018, Fire Service Rota took its first step into Denmark where they worked with Falck, a world-wide company providing Fire and Rescue Services in public and industrial environments. Part of the project was to develop a backup alerting system which over time became the primary alerting facility by offering an alternative way to alert firefighters via smartphone. “Generally it worked really well and has been just as reliable if not more reliable than the old fashioned radio data network,” Klaasse Bos says.

The system works by alerting a select number of on call firefighters to check if they are available. Firefighters have 30-45 seconds to confirm whether they are able to attend. If there is not enough response, the system will contact more qualified on call staff until there is a full team. Fire control can make an informed decision whether to wait for this appliance to go out or to start alerting backup.

The magic happens, he says, when you tie it all together: “You know who is available at on call stations and fulltime stations and can allow for these stations to arrange crew in times of need. The system has the ability to know who is on call, who is skilled in what area, and is who is best suited for each call. When we have 12 firefighters on call and we only need four firefighters, why do we alert 12? Why do we keep people from their sleep? Why do we get them out of their primary jobs when we know we don’t need them?”

Falck agreed with this idea, recognising that paying to call out an unnecessary number of staff is an irresponsible use of public money. They wanted a smart process which would fairly select firefighters, wait for confirmation and if there are not enough confirmations then start re-alerting other people.

“You always make sure you have enough people, but you don’t have to alert too many people. That is something that has been really innovative in Denmark and I believe will one day also come in the Netherlands and the UK,” says Klaasse Bos. “Firefighters want to have the chance to be on the fire engine but they hate being woken up or rushed out of their primary employment for nothing. Somewhere in the middle there is a balance to strike.”

He adds: “If you dissect all of that and concentrate on what we’re doing, we’re trying to help save lives, helping firefighters be as flexible as possible, and alerting them when they are needed. We keep fire engines on the run. I’m convinced that somewhere someday we have already saved lives by streamlining that process.”

Made for firefighters

Klaasse Bos tells that the response for the system has been incredibly positive because firefighters recognise the fact that the platform is purely focused on the fire and rescue service and industry. “We’ve come into an area where we replace software that was never designed for firefighters,” says Klaasse Bos. “Immediately fire services recognise that this is a platform that was built by firefighters for firefighters. We have firefighters on the team who tell me when something works and when something doesn’t. We use our own software on our team. That instant feedback helps us create something that does what it is supposed to do.”

He says that managers in fire and rescue services have loved it because they can go hands free: “Once you’ve rolled out planning, the system can allow them to exchange shifts freely or within the policies of the organisation. We have a flexible system of requesting people to pick up an extra shift when needed, allocating those shifts on a fair basis and streamlining communications around it.”

A common response from users of the platform, he says, has been the high level of service. This, he believes is because of how responsive they are to any questions users have: “We really want to know why certain things are needed. We believe asking why a few times helps us create better solutions, better understand the customer and help us offer an alternative that works better for them.”

Future plans

As a technology-minded person, Klaasse Bos says that he sometimes misses having moved away from being a software developer. He speaks of himself as someone who never trained to be come a leader or manager: “One day you’re tinkering with technology the next you’re being interviewed by an international magazine about something you have developed.

“As a leader I would now say that we are on a mission to support a safer world and happier first responders. We do that through world class software and service. If we achieve that then we are done. That’s our mission.”

Right now, that means further expansion: “We have good software, we have flexible processes, tools to improve the lives of firefighters to be available when needed and keep them off duty when possible – so why not supply these good tools to what has basically been an underserved market for decades. Fire and rescue services across the globe have not been served with the best technology has to offer and we are there to do just that.”

Secure platform

In terms of the development of the technology, Klaasse Bos says this could involve artificial intelligence . He believes that AI can help planners to make more informed decisions and improve automation as well as fine-tuning the fairness process of selecting firefighters to respond to callouts and shifts allocation. His business partner Ruben happens to be a Professor in artificial intelligence, which he says will come in handy if they are to go down that route.

More important, he says, are keeping ahead of the game regarding information security and remaining user friendly. Fire Service Rota just received its ISO 27001 certification. “We have seen that high level cyber security threats are grow significantly,” says Klaasse Bos. “We have responded to that by increasingly securing our software. It’s starting to pay off as Governments become more aware of information security.”

In terms of user-friendliness, he says they are rolling out a new smartphone app in the next year: “We held interviews with users telling us what we like about the current app and what they struggle with. The new app will be built from the ground up and focus on usability and ease of use.”

Lastly, he says they are streamlining our rollout processes. Klaasse Bos says that many of their prospective customers are switching from one system for planning and alerting to another. For them it’s a massive job, involved in a lot of risk. “We want to make the process easy and painless for fire and rescue services and we can do that. All you need is a smartphone or a browser and you’re good to go.”

At Warwickshire, for example, the fire service was confronted by their old contract expiring in a matter of weeks. Fire Service Rota was tasked to take over in that short period. “I remember the phone call and I said ‘we can do this. I will mobilise my team. We can roll out in a matter of weeks’,” says Klaasse Bos.

“We rolled out tens of stations with our software, they ran with it for one or two weeks and several station managers said ‘yes, we tried it, it works, let’s go live’. That is the story I want to repeat more often. We want to make it painless for fire and rescue services to switch from what is usually an antiquated outdated system to a modern and secure and user-friendly fire service rota system.”

This article was originally published in the January edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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