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back to article Union attacks fire-brigade control room IT modernisation

Union officials have launched a public attack on a government networking and IT project designed to reduce the number of fire-brigade control rooms from 46 to 9. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says that the Fire and Resilience Control (FiReControl) project is in "meltdown" and can't possibly be ready in time for the London …

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Joke

obligatory IT crowd snippet

Moss: Subject: Fire. Dear Sir/Madam, I am writing to inform you of a fire that has broken out on the premises of 123 Cavendon Road... no, that's too formal.

[deletes text, starts again]

Moss: Fire - exclamation mark - fire - exclamation mark - help me - exclamation mark. 123 Cavendon Road. Looking forward to hearing from you. Yours truly, Maurice Moss.

[sigh of relief]

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Unions outraged at progress

Shocker.

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Coat

Does the backend run....

....Firebird?

/the one with the matches in the pocket.

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Why?

There's a sort of two camps thing going on here. I'm concerned that the curent system sounds so old hat and vulnerable to something as simple as a breaker switch tripping and the lights going out, but any new project involving such an explostion of new technology really should be looked at cautiously. IT for IT's sake is never the answer. Being able to cope with a major disaster does not mean having lots of beige boxes. It means having the processes in place for people to make decisions quickly and decisively. It sounds more and more like Government has fallen for some patter about the wonders of computers and databases again.

Maybe it's me, but the centralisation of the control centres sounds a bit flawed and personally I see no real advantage over keeping them on a 'local' basis. Why not retain them with a digital upgrade to ensure all can work together and support each other?

Of course, the FBU will jhave a vested interest to protect the people who are its members, although sometimes I do wish they (and other unions) were a little more honest about this. But a comment towards the end got me very worried:

"staffing is down to the local-authority controlled companies that will run the RCCs."

Now the idea of privatising the control of emergency services is something I really don't like the idea of. Saving lives should not be done for profit, it is a public service. Shame on this Government for such an idea.

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Stop

In time for the Olympics?

Why is it that the Olympics are now constantly used as a date comparator? What does it matter if it's ready in time or not? Just go ahead with it, this new system sounds much better than the existing one. Don't ignore it just because it won't be done by 2012.

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Anonymous Coward

Olympics?

It was always a core objective of the project to be deployed in time for the Olympics but (off the record) London fire always said there was no way they would accept deployment until after the Olympics. Their attitude is a mixture of "I bet it will run late" and don't go changing things just before time. This was London's view right back at the beginning so at least the London Fire have some idea what they are doing even if the government does not.

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Anonymous Coward

Not ready for the olympics?

I could start now, from scratch, and deliver before the 2012 olympics.

Who is developing it?

Outsourcing is fraud.

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huh

oh this is daft

personnaly i think its good they dont all rely on google maps

if you think im wrong whats better (quicker) a black cab or a minicab ??

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Anonymous Coward

Outsourcing = Magic

We will supply better resources than you have now and take >20% profit but it will cost you less and you will get better service.

If it isn't magic, the resources will be paid less => less qualified/experienced and/or they will be spread very thinly. In my experience, usually a mixture of both.

Just be thankful the 9 regional centres aren't going to be off-shored.

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Stop

FBU=RMT

What the title says.

I'd trust the FBU as much as I'd trust the RMT .

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Anonymous Coward

I call

I call BullS--t

"At present, very little of this exists. Many of the current control rooms have nothing but voice comms and paper maps, and it may be all but impossible for other controllers to take over in the event of a control room going off the air or having to shut down."

You mean by picking up the maps and taking them elsewhere? Or having copies of all maps in a cupboard at all offices?

I bet FiReControl was the thing they spent the most time thinking about.

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Linux

FIRE!?

"Thank you for calling, Currently all out operators are busy but you will be connected to the next available operator"

Have a managed IT system that can track crews and tell them where hydrants are is a good idea.

But moving all the control from 46 centers to 9. Thats just mad.

What happens if the power goes? Or something big like that.

What happens when the lines are clogged?

"Please leave your message after the beep" *BEEP*

"Erm, Yeh, My house is on fire. Im stuck could you please send someone around?"

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Flame

My Local...

fire service was "modernised" over the past few years, several small local stations were closed (land sold for housing) in favour of a modern centralised (out of town) high-tech control complex; we are constantly being told the response time is far better than the old system, but the local fire related death rate has quadrupled...

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Typical FBU

ALways aginst change and modernisation. They have a rep of deliberately refusing to get involved in anything seen as multi-service, as seen in Teeside where the joint facilities section has a glass partition for the Fire Brigade. Applying this wholesale reluctance to change and modernisation makes them look like a complete bunch of numpties, which unfortunately hinders them when they do have a valid point, in particular the loss of local knowledge of operators. The damage has been done over recent years where decisons to strike for 40% increase in salary etc, and the firefighter reclassed a "qualified professional" while still enjoying favourable shift patterns, unofficial 2nd employment (despite the rules and regs, it's always ignored) while accepting a reduction in professionalsim and maintained standards.

Honestly, what other sector, public or private, would this sort of nonsense be tolerated?

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Anonymous Coward

Emergency, which service do you require?

I had need to call the police from a mobile while on the M40 not long ago. Others may well have been calling to report the same incident, but either way it took five minutes (not an exaggeration, checked by the call timer) for them to answer the phone. Not impressed, hopefully a smaller number of larger centers can allow the fire brigade a better distribution of workload (but somehow I don't expect it will).

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@FIRE!?

>But moving all the control from 46 centers to 9. Thats just mad.

Then why have it at 45? Why not make each local firestation responsible for it's own area?

Then when a nuclear waste train derails, or a 747 falls out of the sky - the local staff at Trumpton village fire station can handle it.

Having a number of centralised redundant backed up control centres is like having a central air traffic control rather than letting each local council handle their own air space.

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Flame

It's not that simple

Remember a few years ago the firemen decided to go on strike? The public didn’t give a damn, probably because firefighters retire really early with a massive pension and don’t face the same dangers the police and paramedics do. Anyway, by sticking their heads above the parapet they caused the government to notice them, and the government then decided it was the fire brigades’ turn to get a kicking.

Consolidating the many little control rooms into a few super control rooms has miffed the control room operators, who don’t want to move to the neighbouring county and have largely left the service and have had to be backfilled with temps. To be honest, it’s a pretty easy job – quite well paid if you like to sit on your bum for twelve hours a day. And it’s not strenuous – they might get half a dozen calls in a shift (in total, not each) and half of those will be double-glazing salesmen or about lost dogs.

The scary things will be the loss of local knowledge (“A fire in the High Street in Somersham? Is that Somersham in Cambridgeshire or Somersham near Ipswich?”) and the possibility of the whole thing being franchised out to Lowest Bidder plc

And regarding the comment above, no you can’t knock up a control room system from scratch before 2012. It does involve integrating touch screens, telephony, mapping, TETRA and VHF radio with a decent GUI and ensuring the thing is stable.

As for “Many of the current control rooms have nothing but voice comms and paper maps” - I find that very hard to believe and I have worked in quite a few control rooms.

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Anonymous Coward

@Outsourcing = Magic

I really do wonder who (if any) the outsource unit is. CSC, IBM, FlyByNight?

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Pirate

@ Typical FBU

"Honestly, what other sector, public or private, would this sort of nonsense be tolerated?"

Ambulance Service

But then most Ambulance Service modernisation is just as chaotic aned full of idiots who believe everything the salesmen tell them.

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Coat

Two and a half years is more than enough time

Re AC "It's not that simple"

1 EISEC - See VOIP vs Land Lines in

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/06/15/voip_999/comments/

2 And regarding the comment above : no you can’t knock up a control room system from scratch before 2012. It does involve integrating touch screens, telephony, mapping, TETRA and VHF radio with a decent GUI and ensuring the thing is stable.

The police have had integrated touch screens, telephony, mapping, TETRA and VHF radio with a decent GUI and stable systems for some years now and from different suppliers.

Software Integrated Communications Control System (SICCS) are used worldwide in mission-critical, emergency services environments. It seamlessly merges radio despatch, telephone call handling, video monitoring and web services, enabling control room operators to conduct their duties effortlessly in a stressful environment.

Furthermore there are a number of suppliers for SICCS systems and the best suppliers have plenty of experience with this now.

It does, however, depend on how well the tender spec was written and the management of the tender process.

This SICCS stuff is pretty much off the shelf now, the radio software and hardware is on at least version 3 and the only limiting factor is the depth of your pocket.

The fire service have had this coming for about 7 or 8 years now and there are about 125 working [5 day] weeks from now to the end of 2011. So, - two and a half years not enough time?

Nonsense. The whole thing can be designed, delivered and tested and be ready for service in under 12 months if the building is ready. Just get on and do it!!!

I'm done here. I'll get my jacket - it's the one with the worn brown leather patches on the elbows.

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Anonymous Coward

Not all it seems

Hi All

Well, as it stands, I work for a fire service we have the following:

Control room, fully integrated IT suite, hydrant, risk database, devices in the appliances(fire engines), mapping with various layers, showing hydrants, aerial photos, A-Z type maps, gps type maps. The appliances are tracked, and their gps co-ordinates are logged, and visible as one of the layers should you choose to turn it on.... etc

No this is not fantasy land, nor is it outside the UK.

Oh yeah, and should we loose the site where the control room is, there is a fully fitted and equipped DR site about 8 miles away.

I also know that we are not the only fire service with these type of facilities, although I do admit we are certainly one of the better ones.

Most of the problems with the hydrant database, and other related mapping issues, are out of the control of the fire services, as the data is held (quite often not very accurately), and handled by local authorities, amenities companies (eg water companies, hydrants database), where these disparate systems come together, there is lot of data clensing required.

Anyhow, just my twopenneth, technically there is no reason why the regional control centres shouldn't work, but there is no substitute for local knowledge, including various local colloquialisms and accents.

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@AC 20:13

"[the fire men] ..don’t face the same dangers the police and paramedics do."

Really? and what tortured logic did you use to come up with that? Would you not think that going into a burning building is fairly hazardous? Or how about dealing with explosives, chemicals, bottled gas, fuel.

Oh and FYI, it's the job of the fire brigade to recover the bodies from a burnt building not the job of the ambulance service - I've seen them have to get the remains of a child out from a fire.

And you might aso like to consider that were I live, most of the firemen are retained - that means that they get paid only when they are actually attending to a fire - they all have to have other jobs to pay the rent. They don't get a pension.

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Happy

@ Night Troll

No, not the ambulance service, they have changes forced upon them regardless! Agenda for Change anyone? It's about time the Fire Brigade got kicked into touch, their delusions of grandeur takes the piss out of anyone who actually works for a living.

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Alert

FBU is renowned for their pointless militancy...

... and this Gov't would do well continuing to toe the line the with these hard cases, as befits a country where Essential Services are allowed to go on strike. I forsee a fire brigade strike 'round about the middle of 2012.

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Greedy firefighters?

28k after training for a 42 hour week, doing an extremely dangerous and stressful job during unsociable hours. Still think they're greedy? Have a word with yourself before you have a moan.

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@Gerrit Hoekstra

fire response is not an "essential service" when lives are not at risk, and when the fire service do go on strike they still continue to respond to incidents where lives are at risk (they just refuse to attend the "my cat climbed on to the roof and won't come down, can you go up and get it for me?" type calls, however they will put down their banners and rush to a "help my house is on fire and there are 3 children stuck inside" call)

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This country can't get ANY computer system right

This country can't get ANY computer system right, and I have to live here! Brain dead the lot of them.

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WTF?

My two penneth....

Had the pleasure of being shown round Portland Coastguard station not so long ago....

1) Look at what they can achieve and cover and how many stations they have (about 18 I think)

2) With respect to systems, they have a pretty good system integrating GPS, VHF, RADAR, hydrograpic charts, OS data, telephony etc. etc. you don't need to reinvent the wheel surely, just bung in what your missing.

My guess the problem is the usual...not enough people who actually know what the fuck to do and more people 'managing' and 'selling'.

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