Cornwall's firefighters are to be controlled from North Yorkshire and vice versa, 'seemlessly', despite concerns over the lack of local knowledge.
Cornwall Council’s Cabinet has "approved a business case for Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service and North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service to share a single mobilising system within their Control Rooms".
Both services have and will retain their own control room with Cornwall’s currently based in Truro but due to be moving to a new purpose built facility in Tolvaddon in January 2015. Currently all 999 calls received by the emergency operators are directed to this Control room so that information can be obtained and appropriate fire engines and other resources can be dispatched to the incident.
Under the new collaboration arrangements, Cornwall’s Control Room will be able to "seamlessly" receive calls and dispatch resources on behalf North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service during busy periods. Similarly, North Yorkshire’s Control Room will be able to provide the same service for Cornwall during busy periods.
While officials in Cornwall believe that modern technology represents an opportunity for savings, the issue remains highly controversial, particularly with the Fire Brigades Union, who say that local knowledge is crucial if lives are not to be put at risk.
The council says main cause of busy periods for both services is severe weather and when this happens, 999 callers cannot always get through to the Control Room immediately. This new arrangement increases capacity to deal with the higher call volume, as Cornwall and North Yorkshire tend not to be affected by severe weather at the same time due to their distance geographically.
A spokesman for the council said: "This is the only project in the country where such a remote collaboration is being put in place to ensure the likelihood of both control rooms being inundated with calls at the same time is reduced to a minimum. As both Services receive a manageable number of 999 calls, other than at times of severe weather, this new arrangement allows for a reduction in the number of Control Room staff on duty in each Control Room to answer 999 calls, particularly at night time.
"However this will not reduce the number of staff on duty in Cornwall as they will be utilised for wider roles to assist other council departments outside normal office hours. This will enable the combined capacity across both control rooms to be higher than at present for a single control room, but at less cost.
"To assist with this work both Fire Authorities received a grant from central Government which will cover the cost of putting in a single mobilising system."
Cornwall Council cabinet member for homes and communities Geoff Brown said; “This project will provide a better service to people calling for the fire and rescue service in each area and will save taxpayers money.”
He added; “It will ensure the future of a Control Room in Cornwall providing the best service for the public.”