www.communities.gov.uk

MPs say FiReControl 999 centres should continue

Published 1 April 2010

Firefighters are better equipped and prepared than ever before

The project to deliver new FiReControl centres that will answer 999 calls to the Fire and Rescue Service and improve public and firefighter safety should continue, according to a Parliamentary Select Committee report published today. The Government welcomes the report which supports the changes that it has already made to the management of the project. The Government will respond in detail to the Committee in due course.

The Chief Fire Officers' Association has also reconfirmed its support for the FiReControl project in a letter to Communities Secretary John Denham.

The FiReControl project is one part of the Government's massive £1billion investment in the Fire and Rescue Service. The programme will give FRSs the modern systems, equipment and training that they need to respond to incidents whether caused by nature, industrial accident or terrorist action.

The Government also announced today that the other parts of the investment programme - Firelink radios and New Dimension specialist equipment - are substantially complete so that the fire and rescue service and the public now benefits from:

  • All FRS emergency vehicles - over 9,000 - now on the new Firelink radio network so that for the first time not only can any crew communicate with any FRS control room in the country but all emergency services are now on the same network too, making the coordination of responding to incidents more effective. London and Shropshire are the latest to join the network.
  • The ownership of many millions of pounds of specialist New Dimension equipment purchased by the Government has been transferred to England's Fire and Rescue Services today. The 'New Dimension' equipment includes:
    • 18 highly sophisticated machines that can identify potentially hazardous substances;
    • 73 units to decontaminate the public;
    • 46 high volume pumps to move large quantities of water such as flood water to put out major fires such as Buncefield;
    • 20 sets of urban search and rescue (USAR) equipment and dogs for rescuing people from collapsed buildings.

Fire Minister Shahid Malik said:

"The Government agrees with the Select Committee that the FiReControl project should continue with renewed vigour. This is a part of the Government's unprecedented and successful investment in the FRS that means that firefighters are better equipped than ever before and able to respond effectively to incidents whether caused by nature, industrial accident or terrorist activity. Today I can also announce that all emergency services in England are now on the same radio communications network making co-ordination of responses to emergencies easier. Many fire and rescue services are today also taking ownership of the specialist equipment purchased by the Government.

"We accept that there have been problems in delivering the FiReControl project. However, through the changes we have already made - many reflected in the Committee's recommendations - I believe the project is in a better position than ever before. Many of the submissions to the Committee also recognised recent improvements. The Government is strongly committed to delivering FiReControl having carefully explored all other possibilities. The benefits it will deliver, especially a level of interoperability between fire and rescue services that we simply do not have at present, outweigh the challenges.

"I also welcome CFOA's reconfirmation of their strong commitment to the project and to working alongside us in realising its many benefits for England's Fire and Rescue Service as well as future public safety."

The Government remains committed to the FiReControl project and the benefits it will provide including:

  • a better service to the public
  • safer frontline fire-fighters
  • better technology for control room operators, and,
  • effective deployment of equipment and skills to where they are needed on a local and national basis.

The FiReControl project represents £423m of investment in the Fire and Rescue Service and has made significant progress including:

  • The completion all nine Regional Control Centres with the London building being completed at the end of February.
  • Three of the RCCs (South West, East Midlands, and North East) have been kitted out with furniture, Audio Visual and IT equipment. In a fourth region, the West Midlands, the fit-out is substantially complete.
  • We are rolling out mobilising equipment into local fire stations. A total of 197 stations are now using the FiReControl interface equipment to communicate between their current control room and their fire stations.
  • The programme to rollout computers in fire appliance cabs is well underway. These will eventually be able to communicate with the control centres and will give fire crews direct up-to-date information to help them deal with an incident.
  • Many of the 'ways of working' operational policies and procedures have been drawn up in partnership with the FRS, EADS (CLG's main contractor for FiReControl), and their sub-contractors.

Notes to editors

New Dimension

The Government began the New Dimension project following the September 11th (9/11/2001) attacks in the USA, to give the FRS the facilities to respond effectively to major incidents whether caused by extreme natural events, industrial accidents or terrorists.

In order to assist FRSs take on ownership of the New Dimension equipment the Government has:

  • Announced funding of £80million for FRSs for New Dimension capabilities between 2008/09 - 2010/11, in addition to the £360million already spent in procuring and delivering the assets along with associated training;
  • Committed to fund an £100million national maintenance contract with VT Group, to ensure the assets are maintained over the next 16 years; and
  • Established a national resilience body led by the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) to ensure the equipment remains compatible and fit for purpose at all times.

Examples of use of New Dimension equipment:

  • Seven New Dimension high volume pumps (HVPs) were dispatched to the Cumbria flooding in November 2009. Two of these HVPs were deployed in Carlisle to protect an electrical power sub-station from the threat of flooding; others went to Keswick and Cockermouth. In addition, Cumbria mobilised their New Dimension unit for decontamination of people, as flood water is often contaminated.
  • In January 2010, USAR capability was deployed to a gas explosion in Shrewsbury town centre which devastated a building and injured 12 people.
  • In January 2010, the United Kingdom International Search and Rescue Team (UKISAR) were deployed to Haiti to help locate and extricate victims of the devastating earthquake. The team consisted of 64 UK search and rescue specialists, many of whom are normally available for where USAR skills are needed in England.

Link to table showing which equipment each FRS holds: www.communities.gov.uk/documents/corporate/pdf/906107.pdf.

Firelink

The Firelink radios will provide clearer voice transmission, greater security, reliability and better coverage. The radios will also link into the resilient control centres built under the FiReControl project.

FiReControl

Control centre operators will be able to mobilise crews to deal with incidents anywhere in the country supported by the best technology and local information. Through the FiReControl system fire crews attending an incident will receive up-to-date information direct on:

  • Where the incident is and how to get there;
  • Site risks and hazards;
  • Location of fire hydrants;
  • Details of buildings or land at the incident;
  • Chemical hazards and how to deal with them; and
  • Vehicle design and cutting instructions for road traffic incidents.

The letters exchanged between the Chief Fire Officers' Association and the Department are available at: www.communities.gov.uk/fire/publications/circulars-and-letters/.

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