Future of Fire Service Control Rooms in Scotland
To the Scottish Executive consultation
"The Future of Fire Service Control Rooms in Scotland"
- UNISON is Scotland's
largest trade union representing over 145,000 members working in the public sector
in Scotland. UNISON members are employed within the Scottish Fire Service as support
staff, and as Scottish citizens our members have an interest in the functions
and service provision of the Scottish Fire Service.
- UNISON Scotland
is concerned that the chosen consultants are not entirely objective in their analysis
of the situation since they have already proposed a rationalisation of fire service
control rooms in England and Wales.
- UNISON Scotland is concerned
by the selective use of statistics within the report which appears biased towards
the case for reducing the number of fire service control rooms.
Scotland is concerned that the consultants do not fully appreciate the role of
fire service control room staff.
- There is a concern that consultant's
report downplays the importance of local knowledge as a key element that local
fire service control room staff bring to their area.
- UNISON Scotland
is concerned that the consultants compare their projections with the current situation
while making no allowances for the fact that the current situation includes control
room staff carrying out their full range of duties. In other words there is no
like with like comparison.
- This flawed analysis fails to mention
how the remaining duties of control room staff will be carried out or the costs
involved in this.
- In going for a more centralised approach and
reducing the number of fire service control rooms, the consultants have rejected
the Scottish Executive's aims of a more locally focussed fire service.
paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the Scottish Executive's consultation,
‘The Future of Fire Service Control Rooms in Scotland".
is Scotland's largest trade union representing over 145,000 members working in
the public sector in Scotland. UNISON members are employed within the Scottish
Fire Service as support staff, and as Scottish citizens our members have an interest
in the functions and service provision of the Scottish Fire Service.
Scotland welcomes the opportunity to respond to this consultation exercise.
UNISON Scotland has a number of concerns relating to this consultation and the
report prepared by the consultants Mott MacDonald. These include the objectivity
of the consultants as well as their analysis of the current and future provision
of fire service control rooms.
is a concern that the chosen consultants, Mott McDonald, are not entirely objective
in their analysis of the situation. They are the consultants who proposed a rationalisation
of fire service control rooms in England and Wales and there is a concern that
they have included that experience within their approach and subsequent response.
If this report was to recommend no change to the present structure it would have
to disagree with the report they compiled previously.
will be highlighted later UNISON Scotland is also concerned that the consultant's
report uses selective figures and information to produce a biased report with
the aim of promoting the case for rationalisation.
are further concerns about the use of statistics and figures within the report,
where any figure that promotes a rationalisation of control rooms is referred
to as ‘reliable' while figures that do not support such a view are often described
as ‘not robust enough'. For instance the consultant's accept any evidence to allow
them to state that larger control rooms are more efficient but question the reliability
of evidence that indicates that larger control rooms are less effective in responding
It also seems as if the whole
rationale of this report is to produce an argument for reducing the costs of fire
service control rooms. This is seen in their implication that larger control rooms
may have easier access to New Dimension resources than smaller control rooms.
The New Directions programme is a UK response to the 9/11 attacks in the USA and
look to how emergency services can respond to a large scale terrorist attack.
If the Scottish Executive accept the need for larger control rooms then there
will be a benefit for them in attracting external funding for control room upgrades
rather than this having an impact on their own resources.
is also a concern over the examples used by the consultants to highlight the benefits
of rationalisation. There is no mention of amalgamations that have not worked,
such as the pilot scheme in Cleveland to amalgamate the control rooms of police,
ambulance and the fire service. This pilot scheme ran into so many problems that
the scheme had to be abandoned. Similarly there is no mention of the rationalisation
of rescue co-ordination centres by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency during which
time there has been an increase in deaths of over 28%.
Scotland has a concern that the issue of a terrorist attack may be exaggerated
in order to drive through a reduction in control rooms. For instance, the Lockerbie
bombing did not result in calls for a change in control rooms. Even the evidence
given by the consultants regarding emergency control rooms in the USA, covering
areas involved in the 9/11 attacks, show that there has been no demand for a change
in control room sizes.
There is also a
concern that whereas under the current situation each brigade has one main control
room and a fallback facility this would not be the case under the proposals advocated
by the consultants. Having one or two larger control rooms would make for an easier
target for any terrorist attack aimed at disrupting emergency services.
of Fire Service Control Rooms
Scotland has a number of concerns relating to the consultant's analysis of fire
service control rooms. These include the consultant's interpretation of the role
of control room staff, the future governance of such staff and the measurement
of the efficiency used in the report.
The Role of Control
UNISON Scotland is concerned
that the consultants do not fully appreciate the role of fire service control
room staff. As well as call taking and dispatch duties there is a wide range of
other duties undertaken by control room staff such as:
Dealing with staffing
issues for Operational personnel
and maintaining Service staffing levels, ensuring that fire appliances do not
go off the run due to staffing deficiencies
and receiving notification of equipment and vehicle faults and notify the appropriate
daily, weekly, monthly and annual statistical reports
the mobilising (FIRES III) database, updating it with changes to premises or hazards
contained, new premises, new streets, of "persons at risk in the community"
Community Fire Safety Department in combating Malicious Calls and assisting Community
Fire Safety Department with initiatives such as "Juvenile Fire Setters"
Health and Safety legislation is adhered to
Service Admin staff when they are busy or short staffed.
with Admin calls outwith office hours
and relaying information to operational personnel e.g. local weather conditions/
road closures, burst mains etc.
test calls from premises testing alarms
above list is only an indicator of the many other duties undertaken by control
room staff. There is also likely to be a major role for these staff in the introduction
of both Integrated Risk Management Plans (IRMP) and the Integrated Personnel Development
System which the Scottish Executive plan to introduce into all fire authorities
Fire control room staff are
part of the Community Fire Safety process and assist in identifying areas of concern.
They are and will be vitally important to each of their areas when IRMP's are
being created locally as it is going to matter greatly whether an area has a local
fire service control room or not.
staff will also be affected greatly by the introduction of Integrated Personal
Development System (IPDS), which will offer them greater and more in depth training
and also identify & quantify the level of expertise and knowledge required
by ‘the Emergency Fire Control Operator' to allow them to serve the community.
Surely the Executive should at least wait until this process is fully completed
before any judgements are made on what is at present inaccurate and incomplete
The consultant's report also
downplays the importance of local knowledge as a key element that local fire service
control room staff bring to their area. While insisting that databases and software
can take the place of local knowledge, the consultants do concede that it would
be a large task keeping databases etc up to date. However the consultants do not
appear to have taken into account any problems such as computer viruses etc which
could make an over-reliance on such software potentially dangerous. There are
some other advantages of retaining a local fire service control room such as:
An emergency 999 call can
be received and processed quicker in the localised areas because local knowledge
assists the Emergency Fire Control Operator to identify in a much quicker way
addresses & locations within their area.
Fire Authorities are better able to judge local needs and respond to local changes
but would not have autonomy if the Emergency Fire Control is out with their boundary
knowledge is absolutely vital with the increase in mobile phone use - many people
either do not know or are unsure of where they are when phoning in a 999 call.
Previously a telephone kiosk number could be used to identify an area or trace
conditions i.e.: Bonfire night, Flooding, Grass & Forestry Fires, The Big
Freeze etc, etc. Smaller Emergency Fire Control Rooms saves the Fire Service thousands
of pounds using local knowledge & skills to identify single incidents or duplicate
calls to single incidents.
point of incidents is reached quicker in larger Emergency Fire Controls Rooms
causing a greater degree of worry & stress to Emergency Fire Control Staff.
can breed contempt. There is still pride in serving your local community.
is impossible for larger Emergency Fire Controls Rooms to serve different Brigades
- having separate local procedures for each Brigade within their areas, is incompatible,
confusing and increases the risk of error.
The report suggests that
in the event of having larger but fewer control rooms, the staff in these control
rooms would have to be employed by a central agency such as the proposed Common
Fire Service Agency. UNISON Scotland is concerned that this could lead to problems
of governance and accountability as each fire brigade could have different protocols
and procedures especially with the onset of IRMP's, leading to a poor understanding
of their implementation.
There will also
be problems in maintaining links between the brigades and the centralised control
room(s). The consultant's also raised the issue that not all staff would want
to transfer to new centralised control rooms and extra training and recruitment
would be needed to replace the loss of valuable, experienced staff.
consultants propose using the cost per incidence as a measure of efficiency for
fire service control rooms. UNISON Scotland is concerned that this methodology
has some serious flaws.
First of all it
concentrates only on call taking and dispatch and ignores the other duties of
control room staff. This therefore ignores added costs to the Fire Authorities
for employing extra staff to take over these duties. Nowhere in the consultant's
projections are these costs included, therefore the report provides an inaccurate
picture of all the costs associated with a rationalisation of fire service control
There is also a concern that cost
per incident is not a true reflection of efficiency. If the Scottish Executive
is seriously concerned about reducing the number of deaths through fire incidents
then maybe a more effective measure would be based on the time taken between accepting
a call and the dispatch of fire-fighters to an incident. Reducing this time will
obviously have an impact on how quickly fire-fighters can attend an incident and
on the number of casualties at each incident.
the report the consultants highlighted the time taken from the acceptance of call
to dispatch. Although the percentage of calls handled within 2 minutes varied
between 91.1% to 98.5%, there was a wider difference in the percentage of calls
handled within 1 minute. This ranged from 49.4% to 78%. The consultant's stated
that in their view this was not related to the size of control rooms but more
due to staffing levels. This seems a strange comment since their analysis suggests
reducing staff numbers.
If an alternative
approach was taken whereby the authority with the best percentage response (for
calls handled within 1 minute) was extrapolated against the number of incidents
and applied to other authorities such as the one with the poorest percentage response,
this would show that extra staff would be required.
UNISON Scotland is concerned
that the projections used by the consultants for the future provision of control
rooms is based on the staff only carrying out call-taking and dispatch duties
and not the full range of their duties. The consultants compare their projections
with the current situation while making no allowances for the fact that the current
situation includes control room staff carrying out their full range of duties.
In other words there is no like with like comparison. It is therefore unsurprising
that the consultants can predict savings in staff costs over the current situation.
This flawed analysis also fails to mention how the remaining duties of control
room staff will be carried out or the costs involved in this. Such an omission
renders the consultants comparisons as invalid and certainly not a true reflection
of the situation.
made by the consultant's contradict the general thrust of the Scottish Executive's
proposals to modernise the fire service in Scotland. In general the Scottish Executive
aims to hand over more power to local decision making as evidenced in the abolition
of Section19 of the Fire Services Act of 1947 (the Ministerial role in the decision
making process affecting issues such as the closure of fire stations). This accent
on local decision making can also be seen in the plans to allow each fire authority
to introduce their own IRMP. However in going for a more centralised approach
and reducing the number of fire service control rooms, the consultants have rejected
the Scottish Executive's aims of a more locally focussed fire service.
For Further Information Please Contact:
Smith, Scottish Secretary
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835
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