New £8.5m Essex fire control room will be at least 20 months late

Fire bosses have admitted there has been a 20-month delay in introducing a multi-million pound system in the Essex control room.

The new emergency control room at Kelvedon Park is due to go into operation on January 15.

The new emergency control room at Kelvedon Park is due to go into operation on January 15.

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS) moved its control room from Hutton to its HQ in Kelvedon along with a brand new computer system in January last year, with the new technology switched-on in the £8.5million hub from January 15.

However the software had to be shut down within days after “teething problems” meant it did not connect with other IT systems, with the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) reporting incidents where a fire engine from Harlow was sent to Colchester, while operators were forced to go back to “pen and paper” and calling fire stations manually to mobilise them.

Now a report to Essex Fire Authority discussed yesterday revealed the new system is still not live – with the service admitting it may not be in use for another three months.

The report revealed the service only issued a call to alert within 90 seconds for 71% of calls, instead of the 90% target, but noted a “continuous improvement in performance” since reverting back to the old system in March.

The standard is due to change to look at the overall response time.

An ECFRS spokesman said: “The service is continuing to work with the suppliers to rectify faults and we hope to go live with the new control system this September.”

He added it was not known if there was a financial implication due to the delay as the contract was still to be agreed.

No lives were put at risk as the background system was ready “at a moment’s notice” and due to the “well-trained call operators”, the spokesman continued.

Riccardo La Torre, regional secretary for the FBU, said: “Can you imagine taking a phone call where every word you say and every second counts on whether someone survives, and the screen freezes or the system does not work? Imagine the stress.

“From day one with both the new shift systems and the technology the professionals who operate the phones every day said ‘we are not ready’.

“They were not listened to and unfortunately the service ploughed ahead. These systems cannot just be fed down from the top, it needs to involve people on the frontline.

“The changed shift system and working patterns has had a detrimental impact on people there, with some forced out of jobs to work part-time and take a pay cut as well as facing more stress.

“All this was in the name of introducing this new system. The fact it is not in place makes it even more frustrating.

“We are in discussions over the shift system and will help in any way we can because ultimately we want the fire engines to go out of the door and for members to be safe.

“We hope it gets fixed sooner rather than later.”