Fire merger "could cost lives"

MERGING East Anglia's fire control rooms into a regional centre could put lives at risk with emergency calls being answered as far away as Cumbria, it has been claimed.

MERGING East Anglia's fire control rooms into a regional centre could put lives at risk with emergency calls being answered as far away as Cumbria, it has been claimed.

The outcry comes as the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) revealed there could be as few as ten staff answering calls from a new centre - equivalent to just three people covering emergencies in the whole of Essex and Suffolk - a figure branded “dangerously low”.

The Government has argued additional calls would be diverted during busy periods to other regional centres but union bosses fear vital second delays could cost lives.

Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire all have county emergency control rooms.

But the Government white paper, designed to revolutionise the way the fire service works, proposed the merger saying it would lead to a better and more efficient service which saved more lives.

The EADT has campaigned against plans to create regional fire authorities, branding the move “wrong and dangerous”.

Most Read

Graham Noakes, regional secretary for the FBU in East Anglia, said the changes meant strike action could not be ruled out.

“What the Government does not do is take into account that it is not uncommon for our control room staff to stay on the phone reassuring a person, giving them advice, and we have turned up on many instances where that member of the public is still talking to control,” he said.

“In such cases other calls will have to be diverted and then emergencies in Essex and Suffolk will be going right across the country, as far away as Cumbria.”

He warned of the “catastrophic” consequences should the national system go down for a length of time in a similar way to air traffic control failings in the past.

“Our fear is that lives will be at risk, this is not going to save lives but will increase the risks and the costing is all over the place - it could cost tax payers more money for a worse service,” he said.

Keith Flynn, FBU secretary for Essex, said: “Without a shadow of a doubt, it will put lives at risk.

“Operators are highly professional staff and to reduce their numbers down to these levels is not on.

“Calls will be held in queues and in some cases may not even be answered.”

Steve Brinkley, Suffolk FBU secretary, said: “We are opposed to regional control rooms in general because they are not efficient and are no cheaper.

“It will be a private operation with no public accountability.

“Any cuts in staff will have a detrimental effect on public health and safety and one thing is for sure they won't lead to a better service.

“It's a proven fact in any business, whether it's a supermarket or an office, if you employ less people then service will decline.

“What we've got today is somewhere near the proper staffing levels that we need in the control room but there is an argument that we could do with an extra four people.

“If the FBU for East Anglia are predicting that there will be 10 operators in the new control room I would suggest that we need at least double for the region.”

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has said regional control rooms would be equipped with the most advanced equipment.

A spokeswoman said: “It is a key modernisation project to equip the control service with the most up-to-date equipment.

“It will enable control service operators instantly to identify where a caller is located, including those using mobile phones, and to mobilise direct to appliances, thus reducing the time it takes to get to a fire and save lives.

“Additionally, the new control centres will deliver efficiency savings through the use of improved technology and streamlines processes.

“The money will be ploughed back into the fire and rescue service to fund fire prevention work, which will save more lives.”

She stressed staff not needed in control rooms could be kept on within other roles in the service.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter