Frank Duffield, Chair of the CFOA RDS Working Group and Humberside CFO, discusses the RDS portal, which has recently been made available throughout the Service.

Frank DuffieldThe Retained Duty System Portal, hosted by CFOA, is the gateway to a community of shared practice, good ideas and innovations that focus on recruitment, development and retention of, what is recognised to be the most effective and efficient way of managing risk in our towns, villages and countryside - 'on-call' firefighters working the Retained Duty System. As the CFOA lead on RDS issues I am delighted to welcome you to the Retained Duty System (RDS) Portal. In combination with a series of practitioner seminars, this portal will maintain the drive to continuously improve our service to the community through excellence in service delivery. Before outlining the purpose and intentions of the portal, perhaps a few words about where issues around the RDS have been in recent years. In 2007, a Retained Review Task and Finish Group (TFG) were tasked by the Practitioners' Forum (PF) to review progress following the Retained Review Report of 2005 and to identify ways to continue development of this valuable duty system. Since the 2005 report many fire and rescue services had reviewed their use of RDS to ensure the people employed on these duty systems are valued and are competent to deliver the tasks required of them by each individual fire and rescue service. In many cases the equipment delivered by government to provide resilience in the 21st century (New Dimension) is crewed by RDS firefighters and it is difficult to imagine responding to the current planning scenarios for catastrophic events without the involvement of RDS firefighters.

Due to the mandate and resources available the TFG confined itself to reporting on the current position and making strategic recommendations as to a way forward. The RDS remains an efficient way of providing fire cover, and as such should form a vital part of most strategic risk reduction plans. However the quality of service provided and availability of cover remains inconsistent across the country.

There has been improvement since the 2005 report where FRSs have adopted many of the recommendations. The TFG has examined the current issues facing the RDS and identified the need for national stewardship and a mechanism for scrutiny if the pace of change is to be sustained. In line with the terms of reference for the group, and having taken account of the associated issues, the TFG put forward a set of recommendations for consideration by the Practitioners' Forum and these recommendations formed a set of activities that will support the delivery of a sustainable and effective RDS. These were accepted by the Practitioner's Forum and in 2008; a CFOA RDS Working Group was established to pursue the following Terms of
• To develop, support and guide improvement in the provision of RDS firefighters across the UK
• To consider, develop and, if necessary, deliver an Operational Assurance process specifically designed to meet the needs of RDS firefighters
• To give direction and guidance to fire and rescue services on the development and maintenance of competence for RDS firefighters
• To develop, implement and manage the sharing of best practice and education through a conference/workshop agenda
• To develop and maintain a web portal through the CFOA website
• To respond to issues raised through the CFOA Strategic Directorate for HR
• To maintain dialogue and engage with CLG, CFRA, SFRA, WAG and Northern Ireland for governance purposes
• To ensure that engagement across the UK FRS takes place through effective Communication
• To establish sub-groups as and when required.

With representation from all CFOA regions as well as CLG, the devolved administrations and trade unions, the group meets frequently to discuss and develop key issues.
Throughout these years, what has been missing is a means whereby all our 'on call' firefighters can access and influence the knowledge across the service that these firefighters operate within. Indeed, the fourth item on the agenda above has been the most challenging. However, it is now ready for launch and we hope it will be a platform that allows access to all relevant information to 'on call' firefighters across the United Kingdom.

We already have a library of Retained Liaison Managers and their contact details can be found on the portal at the moment. It is now about encouraging our 15,000 'on call' firefighters to populate the site to ensure we all learn from their understanding of the good practice that is happening throughout the UK.

CFOA hosts the site and the RDS Working Group steer its course, but the portal is built on collaboration and information sharing. Access to the portal is open to all FRSs and contributions are welcomed from all stakeholders. The purpose of the portal is not to decide what is, or what is not best practice; we simply encourage all those who have achieved success in delivering an effective RDS to share their stories, policies, procedures and processes whenever a good idea is turned into success.
For those of you wishing to post your thoughts or ideas, please visit the RDS community at If you do not currently have a CFOA account please visit the same page and register using the instructions given. If you wish to put forward notable practice, please contact your Retained
Liaison Manager. Details of your RLM can be found at The portal will also build a network of key fire and rescue service contacts, who are able and willing to share their experiences and knowledge to make sure a firefighter really is a firefighter, and all our communities get the service they deserve. So again we welcome your contributions.