FiReControl was a project, initiated in the United Kingdom in March 2004, to reduce the number of control rooms used to handle emergency calls for fire services and authorities. Presently there are 46 control rooms in England that handle calls from the local public for emergency assistance via the 999 system. A new radio network – FireLink – is being developed and built that will be compatible with FiReControl.
The original plan was for 46 current control rooms to be combined into nine regional control centres (RCC), but this plan was thrown into doubt in May 2010 when the government announced that fire services would not be forced to reorganise. The plan was formally scrapped in December 2010.
- 1 Current arrangements in existing control rooms
- 2 Future arrangements in regional control centres
- 3 Select committee
- 4 Opposition to regional control centres
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Current arrangements in existing control rooms
Each fire and rescue service in England is responsible for accepting and processing emergency fire calls in its own local authority area and, with agreement, emergency calls from other fire and rescue service areas. These are answered by dedicated fire control staff who use computer-aided mobilising systems to locate the nearest available, appropriate resources and mobilise them to the incident. The control staff maintain contact with the fire crews, in most cases by voice radio, whilst on their way and during the incident to provide current information and respond to critical requests.
Fire and rescue services can support each other with additional resources. Although the control rooms rely on different technologies and operational procedures and are not physically networked, they support each other by taking calls and giving advice to callers from outside their area. Then the information is passed to the relevant fire service via telephone, fax or radio, whichever is quickest. There are about 1500 control staff employed in England, with 350 on duty at any one time under the current county system. All staff are able to take emergency calls for their neighbours during busy periods such as severe flooding or multiple grass fires during droughts.
Future arrangements in regional control centres
The regional control rooms were expected to improve on the current arrangements by:
- Networking each of the nine centres so they will be able to automatically back each other up in times of increased call pressure or failure.
- Providing purpose built, secure and resilient modern facilities.
- Ensuring each RCC will have access to the same information and the ability to manage and deploy resources on a local, regional or national level.
- Providing each RCC with caller identification location technology – which means the location a call is coming from will be identified automatically.
- Providing satellite positioning equipment – which will monitor the whereabouts of each vehicle.
- Mobile data terminals – will be installed in cabs so firefighters have constantly updated information.
- Rationalise mobilising policies and procedures across all existing Fire and Rescue Services in England.
However much of the technology is said to be becoming obsolete before it has even been installed due to progress in technology and delays to the project. Some fire services already have some of the proposed equipment some three years before the final RCC goes live.
Delivering the technology
In March 2007, then Fire and Rescue service minister Angela Smith announced that EADS Defence & Security (now Airbus Defence & Space) had been awarded an eight-year £200m contract to supply the IT infrastructure for the RCCs.
Regions and locations of regional control centres
|Region||Location||Control rooms it will take over||Cutover date||Reference|
|East of England (E o E)||Cambridge Research Park, Cambridgeshire||Essex, Norfolk, Cambridge and Peterborough, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Luton and Suffolk Fire and Rescue Services.||September 2011 – May 2012|||
|East Midlands (EM)||Willow Farm Business Park, Leicestershire||Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, and Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Services.||May 2011 – January 2012|||
|London||Merton Industrial Estate, London||London Fire Brigade||September 2011|||
|North East (NE)||Belmont Business Park, Durham||Durham and Darlington, Tyne and Wear, Cleveland and Northumberland.||May 2011 – November 2011|||
|North West (NW)||Lingley Mere Business Park, Warrington||Cumbria, Cheshire, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside Fire and Rescue Services.||January 2012 – May 2012|||
|South East (SE)||Kite's Croft, Hampshire||Hampshire, Royal Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Kent, East Sussex, Buckinghamshire, Isle of Wight, Surrey and West Sussex Fire and Rescue Services.||March 2012 – November 2012|||
|South West (SW)||Blackbrook Business Park, Taunton||Devon and Somerset, Dorset, Avon, Cornwall, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Services.||May 2011 – March 2012|||
|West Midlands (WM)||Wolverhampton Business Park, Wolverhampton||Staffordshire, West Midlands, Shropshire, Hereford and Worcester and Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Services.||May 2011 – March 2012|||
|Yorkshire and Humberside (YH)||Paragon Business Village, Wakefield||West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Humberside and North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Services.||July 2012 – November 2012|||
Cut over to regional control centres
Cut over was planned to happen gradually with groups of Fire and Rescue services moving from local to regional controls in batches. This was intended to make it easier to identify, isolate and address any problems that arise without affecting the quality of service provided to the public. It was planned that the first regional control centres would go live in spring 2011 with the full system expected in place by the end of 2012,  but the May 2010 announcements put these plans in doubt.
Management of regional control centres
Each regional control centre will be run by an organisation known as a local authority controlled company. This company is jointly owned by all the fire and rescue authorities (FRAs) in that region.
As of April 2008 regional local authority controlled companies have been set up in the North East, North West, East Midlands, West Midlands, South West and the South East. London does not need to set up a local authority controlled company because of its unique arrangements.
On 8 February 2010, the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee heard evidence on the fire control project. Called to give evidence were Cllr Brian Coleman and Cllr James Pearson from the Local Government Association. Also giving evidence Matt Wrack from the Fire Brigades Union and John Bonney Chief Fire Officers Association. The second session heard evidence from Shahid Malik MP Fire Minister, Sir Ken Knight Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser, Shona Dunn Director for Fire and Resilience Department for Communities and Local Government, Robin Southwell CEO and Roger Diggle Project Director EADS. The committee was chaired by Dr Phyllis Starkey MP and attracted significant media attention.
Opposition to regional control centres
The Fire Brigades Union, which represents firefighting personnel and control staff at all levels within the fire and rescue service across the UK, launched a campaign against the regionalisation of emergency fire control rooms. The union stated that the project had virtually no acceptance amongst the workforce, which was of major concern to the directors and ministers. Members of the fire brigades union had grave concerns about the diversion of money to the project, and questioned the feasibility of having 30% fewer control staff available to answer emergency calls across the country during spate conditions. There were fears that the RCC 999 system would become swamped with calls and come to a complete standstill, and the loss of local knowledge amongst call takers was considered a significant risk. Chief Fire Officers feared they would have less control over service delivery in their county, which they felt might be a concern to fire authorities around the country.
The Conservative Party published a policy green paper in April saying that they would cancel the regionalisation of fire control as part of their decentralisation/localisation policy, and confirmed following the 2010 general election that forced reorganisation was to be abandoned. In December 2010, the centre was officially scrapped.
- "The Coalition: our programme for government" (PDF). HM Government, United Kingdom. 20 May 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 June 2011. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
- "South West fire control in Taunton could be scrapped". BBC News. 21 May 2010. Retrieved 21 May 2010.
- "Regional fire brigade control centre plan scrapped". BBC News. 20 December 2010. Retrieved 7 January 2012.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-09-29. Retrieved 2009-07-07.
- "FiReControl - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents". UK Parliament. 8 February 2010. Retrieved 17 April 2010.
- "FILE ON 4" (PDF). BBC. 2 March 2010. Retrieved 17 April 2010.
- "FBU denounces failing fire control project as ‘the worst ever’". tribunemagazine.co.uk. 19 March 2010. Retrieved 17 April 2010.[permanent dead link]
- "Blast for 999 centre delays". Manchester Evening News. 1 April 2010. Retrieved 17 April 2010.
- "FRS Circular 3/2010 - Fire and Resilience Programme Highlights - January/February 2010". department of communities and local government. 26 February 2010. Archived from the original on 6 June 2012. Retrieved 17 April 2010.
- "Control room scrapping 'will help Devon and Somerset". BBC News. 20 December 2010. Retrieved 21 December 2010.
- Fire Service on Line http://www.frsonline.fire.gov.uk
- Department of Communities and Local Government http://www.communities.gov.uk
- Fire Brigades Union http://www.fbu.org.uk
- EADS Defence & Security Systems http://www.cassidian.co.uk/
- Airwave Solutions http://www.airwavesolutions.co.uk
- Mott Mac Donald http://www.mottmac.com
- National Audit Office: The failure of the FiReControl project http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/1012/failure_of_firecontrol.aspx