EMERGENCY fire calls from people in West Somerset could be answered by an operator in Exeter from next April.

Hestercombe House fire control centre in Cheddon Fitzpaine, near Taunton, looks set to close with the loss of the equivalent of 23 full-time local jobs.

All 999 fire calls for Somerset and Devon will be handled from service HQ at Clyst St George, Exeter – which has 31 full-time control centre staff – from next April if the proposal is approved.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority is discussing Hestercombe’s future tomorrow (Friday) – just weeks after it was revealed the shelved regional fire control centre in Taunton is costing taxpayers £102,373 a month in rent for the empty building.

In a report, Assistant Chief Fire Officer Peter Smith said the lease on Hestercombe, which is owned by Somerset County Council and costs £675,000 a year to run, expires in October.

But staff are likely to move out earlier to save £175,000 on a software licence set for renewal in April.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer Smith said there will be no compulsory redundancies, although some employees are expected to receive voluntary packages.

He added: “The opportunity to consolidate the existing arrangements will achieve financial savings, improve the operational management of the service, provide a solid base to develop a fit-for-purpose control centre and present opportunities for income generation.”

As well as saving the service hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, the move could attract Government cash under plans to develop a back-up system of ‘resilient fire control functions’ with service counterparts in Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire.