30 January 2015
Control staff at Essex County Fire & Rescue Service (ECFRS) have had to resort to pen and paper this week as its brand-new ‘state-of-the-art’ control system collapsed after repeated and multiple faults.
The system, which became operational earlier this month, mobilises fire appliances for emergencies and is supposed to select which one to send to which incident.
But the Essex Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says the service is ‘in turmoil’ as the system failed, reporting that, in some instances, the wrong fire appliances were sent out or were despatched to the wrong address, or were listed as ‘not available’ even though firefighters were ready and prepared to attend incidents.
On one occasion, fire engines from Harlow were sent to an incident in Colchester, 45 miles away.
Initially, it was thought that the system was just suffering ‘minor teething problems’ but as it collapsed completely, fire control operators were forced to revert to making notes on paper and informing fire stations of emergencies by phone.
Secretary of the Essex FBU, Alan Chinn-Shaw said: “We are extremely concerned about these system failures in control. We have over 100 examples of problems with the new system and this is inevitably resulting in delays to fire appliances arriving at fires and other emergencies.
“This shambles is resulting in unnecessary risks to both the public and to the firefighters attending these incidents. The service was warned prior to the system being brought on-line that it wasn’t ready for use. Until these major problems are corrected, the system is not fit for purpose.”
ECFRS has admitted problems with the new technology, but has reassured the public that it is still able to respond to emergencies.
Assistant Chief Fire Officer Paul Hill said: “After 30 years operating one system, the changeover was always going to be a huge undertaking. 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. 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.”
Commercial buildings, non-domestic and multi-occupancy premises in England and Wales are already forced to undertake a 'suitable and sufficient' fire risk assessment carried out under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
While the overwhelming majority of premises do this, if the assessment is thought to have been carried out to an insufficient extent, the Responsible Person can face an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison.