18th October 2017

Row reignites over fears control room lacks local touch

A smouldering row over the reliability of fire control room services has been reignited following an official unveiling of the new Dundee centre, with a whistle-blower insisting serious operational errors are still occurring.

Retired senior fire officer Alec Kidd, who spent 12 years in the isles during his career as a firefighter, says major mistakes at the £2.5 million premises are still taking place.

And a local retired firefighter has spoken out to back Mr Kidd’s claims, adding there have been “several” times when the wrong station has been called.

However, the fire service has hit back at the claims, with one high-ranking official pointing to a high-profile investigation which showed the correct resources had been mobilised.

Mr Kidd came to the forefront in January when he outlined a number of blunders in the first 30 days of the Dundee centre’s operational life.
Those included one incident in which the Bressay fire crew were initially tasked to attend an incident in Yell.

Mr Kidd now claims that:

• Dundee lost all communication with appliances around the Highlands and Islands during one weekend, and had to rely on mobile phones for coverage;
• Ongoing mistakes are taking place with appliances being sent to the wrong locations;
• Staff have been ordered not to talk to him.

His claims are drawn from papers which went before the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee on 5th September.

The Shetland Times has learned the committee plans to write to SFRS after two petitions against control room closures were raised. It is understood the committee plans to look again at the petition before the end of the year.

Retired Lerwick firefighter Graham Nicolson has backed Mr Kidd’s claims. He said was now “off the run” but had heard of “a lot of mistakes” had been made.

“The boys who are on the run are sworn to secrecy,” he said.

“As far as the control room debacle is concerned there have been several times when the wrong stations have been called.

“The biggest problem with the new technology is there is no fail-safe [back-up]. If something goes wrong, then there is no local knowledge. There’s no back-up. Inverness had the local knowledge.”

Isles MSP Tavish Scott has previously been critical of the centralised service. He said: “We need to be constantly vigilant that a centralised control service will work and avoid the problems that have happened in finding addresses in the islands and in rural areas.”

Tavish Scott

The SFRS, in contrast, was highlighting the benefits behind its new Dundee centre this week. It said said its new operations control personnel were the “unseen front line” – responding to calls from the public and quickly mobilising firefighters to assist.

The opening in Dundee brings the total number of SFRS operations control centres serving Scotland to three.

The service said work is now under way to procure a single command and control communications and mobilisation system (CCMS) to “further enhance resilience and emergency call handling capability”.

Assistant chief officer Lewis Ramsay is the director of response and resilience at the SFRS.

He said: “Her Majesty’s Fire Service Inspectorate investigated mobilisation claims raised earlier this year.

“They found that Operations Control mobilised the appropriate resources on every occasion – as proposed by the system and specified by service policy – and when further information came to light, amended the response to reflect the new circumstances.

“We would welcome further discussion and evidence regarding any alleged system failures and mis-mobilisation.

“The public can rest assured that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service continues to attend at every emergency with the right resource, in the right place – at the right time.

“Any firefighter or Operational Control staff will know that local knowledge is derived not only from our operations control but from the highly experienced local crews based across the north.

“We combine the experience of those firefighters with an advanced mobilisation system and the very high level of professionalism of our operations control staff to respond in times of emergency.”

Asked about radio system failures, he added: “The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s Dundee Operations Control Centre did note an issue with radio communications in the north service delivery area on Friday 4th August.

“Thanks to robust strategic planning and the professional training of our control staff, there was no loss in communication with SFRS resources and no effect on the service’s ability to respond to emergencies.

Thanks to robust strategic planning and the professional training of our control staff, there was no loss in communication with SFRS resources and no effect on the service’s ability to respond to emergencies – LEWIS RAMSAY

“Following a thorough investigation, the radio problem was isolated and identified as a networking fault.

“As of Monday, 7th August, a permanent solution was put in place which ensures that this problem should not occur again.”

• See this week’s Shetland Times for full story.

About Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor has worked as a reporter since 1995, and has been at The Shetland Times since 2007, covering a wide variety of news topics. Before then he reported for other newspapers in the Highlands, where he was raised, and in Fife, where he began his career with DC Thomson. He also has experience in broadcast journalism with Grampian Television. He has lived in Shetland since 2002, where he harbours an unhealthy interest in old cars and motorbikes.

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