Fire chiefs under attack for plan to use control room in Cornwall

Fire chiefs in North Yorkshire have been criticised for plans that would see the service share its control room operations with colleagues in Cornwall.

Fire crews may share services 300 miles apart

Yesterday a proposal that the two services look at sharing control rooms at busy times, such as during floods, was backed by members of the North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority.

It has been argued that because North Yorkshire and Cornwall are hundreds of miles apart it would reduce the chances of both areas having to deal with major issues such as flooding at the same time.

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But last night the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) warned that the move could affect response times as people could be calling a centre answered by somebody in Cornwall who had no local knowledge of North Yorkshire.

The FBU’s North Yorkshire secretary, Richard Stevens said: “We certainly do have concerns about this.

“The argument is that technology takes over and you do not need local knowledge but we don’t agree.

“There’s also the worry of being able to understand local accents and confusion with place names.”

He added the union feared that the move, agreed at a time of cutbacks, would result in further job losses.

A report prepared for members of the fire authority added: “The assumption is that the project will produce efficiencies as well as increased effectiveness.”

In a statement the authority said yesterday: “North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority today agreed a proposal for the service to look at a collaborative arrangement with Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service.

“The proposal does not look at outsourcing either service’s local control rooms but is about increasing resilience at busy times such as when there is localised flooding that affects an entire region as was experienced in the latter part of 2012.

“The geographic distance between the two services means 
that they are unlikely to both be experiencing severe weather at the same time which provides increased resilience to both services.

“The collaborative arrangement would see Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service’s control room having the ability to take calls if necessary, on behalf of North Yorkshire, during busy times to reduce delay and vice versa. As both Cornwall and North Yorkshire are installing the same control mobilising system they will be able to ‘mobilise’ each other’s resources to incidents.”

The termination of a plan to build regional control centres has resulted in fire and rescue services having to consider the future of their existing control rooms.

In 2011 a hard-hitting report from the Public Accounts Committee concluded the plan to build regional fire control centres had ended in “complete failure” and would cost the taxpayer more than half a billion pounds.

The MPs’ report said the scheme, launched in 2004 by the last Labour government, was one of worst cases of project failure it had seen.

The plan to replace 46 fire and rescue control rooms in England with nine new regional centres was aimed at allowing fire services to work together on major incidents such as flooding or terror attacks.

At present North Yorkshire has 38 stations across the county and 17 control room staff, while in Cornwall, the fire and rescue service has 31 fire stations and 18 control room staff, a report prepared for members of the fire authority says.

Fire chiefs in North Yorkshire revealed in 2010 that the service would have to slash its budgets by up to £1m for each of the next four financial years to cope with funding cuts from the Government.