Andy Fulton: We need to save fire control

Firefighters need accurate directions and good local knowledge to fight fires properly and save lives. Picture: Robert Perry
Firefighters need accurate directions and good local knowledge to fight fires properly and save lives. Picture: Robert Perry
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If you’re ever in the unfortunate position of requiring the fire and rescue service, do you want the best?

What you have now is the best response, but plans have been approved in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to make major changes to that.

The plan is to move from eight emergency fire control rooms to three to cover the whole of Scotland. No-one knows if the south-east of Scotland will have one. We all know or can imagine the distress felt if you need the fire service, we all know what a firefighter looks like, and we all know what a fire engine looks and sound like. So what’s missing in that scenario? It’s the dedicated emergency fire control staff in your local control room.

They are the first contact for you on the front line of the fire service. They are highly trained, highly skilled unformed staff who know their area and know how to get the information they need to get the response needed to deal with your emergency. It takes a 13-week training course with a three- year probation period before you are counted as a qualified member of staff.

Very similar to that of a firefighter, in fact their title is firefighter (control) that’s how important their role is.

They don’t just take telephone calls. It is a fact that if anything goes wrong in a fire control room it affects how quickly your emergency is dealt with.

These staff know their area, and their job. Currently they cover 2500 square miles from the Border to the Forth Road Bridge, numerous forests, massive hill ranges, main road routes including motorways and trunk roads, main rail routes, an international airport, city centre calls, towns, villages, rural calls, historic risks, reservoirs and rivers, and a vast array of special risks from Torness Power Station to Edinburgh Castle.

Firefighter (control) staff are the safe link between the firefighters at the incident and any lifeline they may need. If it’s extra firefighters, extra equipment, making sure fire engines are moved around to be in the right place at the right time to keep you safe, they do it.

They liaise, support and arrange help from other services. They don’t keep you in a queue, they do send what you need straight away and they do know about the whole fire service.

It’s said by some that computers and technology can replace the need for local knowledge, the staff themselves. However, there’s no computer that can find you on a rural area if you don’t know where you are – it’s the firefighter (control) who does that.

Technology is a great tool, but the day the computer becomes the main role and the staff the tool it’s time to say stop. That time is now.

You’re in danger of losing this service; help us keep a fire control in the south-east of Scotland. Speak to your MSPs, your councillors or write to the Chief Fire Officer of Scotland.

• Andy Fulton is the east Scotland representative of the Fire Brigade Union.