ALL 999 calls for Cumbria Fire Service are now being handled 150 miles away at Cheshire Fire Brigade headquarters in Winsford.
Cumbria’s call-handling technology became outdated as it awaited relocation into the proposed new Warrington-based regional control centre which was supposed to operate from 2009 but is still not open.
In the meantime, Cumbria closed its Cockermouth control centre in spite of a community campaign and now its 999 calls are handled in Cheshire with the help of just two call handlers who relocated to Winsford.
Cheshire Fire Service has upped the minimum daytime staffing levels from four to five, but Dave Williams, of Cheshire Fire Brigades Union, fears problems if both brigades become busy at the same time – however North Wales Fire can pick up the overspill.
He said: “They are working off total figures – the amount of incidents in Cumbria are about 7,000 calls a year but the fire service doesn’t work like that.
“You have quiet periods then everything can happen in a very short space of time. Fortunately, Cheshire has not got busy at the same as Cumbria but it’s only a matter of time.”
Mr Williams said even with modern technology local knowledge could be useful and for Cheshire call handlers Cumbria was ‘unknown territory’ while the Cumbrian call handlers did not know this county.
Meanwhile, plans have been resurrected to open the £14m regional control centre at Warrington which has been dubbed ‘an unmitigated disaster’ by Labour MP Clive Betts because of the delays.
Merseyside Fire Service has pulled out of the project but Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester and Lancashire brigades look set to operate from there after June 2014, assuming the decision is finalised in September.
FBU representative Mr Williams believes the reduced staffing levels covering Cumbria and Cheshire doesn’t bode well for the regional control centre and fears 999 calls will be stacked at busy times.
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman Sian Corrigan said calls numbers in Cumbria were low and argued ‘the capacity was there’ to cope because the control room had previously been overstaffed.
She said modern technology meant local knowledge ‘doesn’t feature’ in the way the system operates and added: “It’s been running for over a month and there have been no issues.”