Essex fire control system crashes with teething errors

Senior Divisional Officer Paul Hill stands in the new emergency control room at Kelvedon Park.

Senior Divisional Officer Paul Hill stands in the new emergency control room at Kelvedon Park. - Credit: Su Anderson

Systems at the brand-new multi-million pound fire control room have gone down – as the union representing firefighters says staff have been forced to resort to pen and paper.

Operations at the new centre at Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS) headquarters at Kelvedon Park begin on January 14 as the base moved from its former site in Hutton.

However, despite heavy testing of the system, teething problems caused by the way it connected with other computer systems meant it has failed.

The Essex Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said it had reported cases of the wrong appliances being sent to incidents, crews being registered as unavailable despite being on duty, and one case of fire engines from Harlow being sent to an incident in Colchester.

It claims staff are having to jot down notes on paper and phone up fire stations to mobilise crews.

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ECFRS has admitted problems with the new technology, but has reassured the public that it is still fully able to respond to emergencies and has not missed a 999 call.

Alan Chinn-Shaw, secretary of the Essex FBU, said: “We are extremely concerned about these system failures in control. This is inevitably resulting in delays to fire appliances arriving at fires and other emergencies.

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“This shambles is resulting in unnecessary risks to both the public and to the firefighters attending these incidents.

“Until these major problems are corrected the system is not fit for purpose.”

Assistant Chief Fire Officer Paul Hill at ECFRS said: “After 30 years operating one system, the changeover was always going to be a huge undertaking.

“We have the added pressure of working in an emergency situation with life at risk.

“At no point was our 999 service to the public offline. The same, highly trained operators are taking emergency calls and it is testament to their training that when the system fails they are able to improvise – they continue to do a fantastic job, with or without a computer.

“We always anticipated some early teething problems despite the fact that exhaustive tests were carried out before the system went live, but of course some issues only came to light when used in a live environment.

“We are now putting significant resources into finding solutions so the system will work as well as we know it can.

“We have already got the vast majority of it absolutely right and where we come across unplanned difficulties, we deal with these as quickly as possible.

“The system itself is one of the best of its kind and is the first new generation mobilising system to be introduced in the UK fire and rescue service.”

ECFRS receives an average of 30 calls per day, 40% of which are false alarms.

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