Union leaders have warned a new North West fire control centre will not have enough staff to adequately handle emergency calls.
The Fire Brigade Union believes staffing at the new HQ in Warrington, due to replace localised centres in Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Cumbria and Cheshire in April 2014, will also be hampered by an “unreasonable shift system”.
But fire service bosses insisted many of Lancashire 30-odd control staff were already applying for the £27,600-plus posts in north Cheshire.
Union officials said only 37 operators, overseen by nine team leaders and five operations managers, would work at the centre, compared to nearly 150 across the region now.
Branch secretary Steve Harman said there would be less staff to answer calls, with only seven on duty at night, compared to the same amount in Lancashire alone at present.
And he said the depth of local knowledge at the service’s Fulwood HQ could also be lost - putting people’s lives at risk.
He said: “Our own mobilising staff have an understanding of the safe operating procedures in Lancashire - every vehicle, fire appliance, what officers are available - and they know the lay of the land, the topography, demographics, areas of deprivation, the motorway and railway networks, etc.
“When an emergency call goes out of Lancashire, you lose that knowledge. If Warrington is busy calls could end up in London. They will rely on technology, computers, GPS and sat nav systems. That person taking that call will type in words and hope for the best.”
He told a consultation that staff would be expected to work many more shift periods of a shorter duration, with as few as six full weekends rostered off each year.
He said: “We believe these will be unworkable and extremely family unfriendly.
“When you get a big factory fire like we had in Leyland last year, you still get the normal house fires or road traffic accidents. They can get lost in repeat calls to the factory fire.
“You’ve got to plan for the worst case scenario because that does happen.”
However, Bob Warren, director of people and development at Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, said London’s new control centre, which handles almost twice as many calls as its North West counterparts, had a ‘comparable’ staffing level to those proposed.
And he said staffing provision had been made for 135,000 calls per year, when the combined total for all the regional control rooms was just 114,000 last year.
He said: “The issue of staffing levels as portrayed by the FBU does not match the facts.
“London has the busiest fire control centre in England and takes 204,000 emergency calls a year, nearly twice as many as the combined total for the North West fire and rescue service control centres involved in the project.
“London takes four times as many non-emergency calls and handles 31 calls an hour compared to 17 calls an hour in the North West, yet London’s fire control centre has comparable staffing levels to those proposed for the North West fire control centre.
“Finally, the FBU’s suggestion that duty rosters proposed at the North West fire control centre will prove unworkable has to be considered in that context of an anticipated volume of calls incorporating a comfortable margin of safety in terms of the number of staff needed to handle them – a figure of 135,000 calls a year when the North West fire and rescue services involved in the project took a combined total of just 114,000 last year.
“The shifts staff will work offer a much better flexibility than present arrangements to match the time staff spend on duty to demand and will be anything but ‘unworkable’, as the FBU suggest.”
Last September, Merseyside’s fire service withdrew from the plans for the centre, which was branded a £14m ‘waste of money’ by the House of Commons’ public accounts committee.