Row over Berkshire fire service control room merger bid

Fire Brigades Union (FBU) members have expressed "serious concerns" over Berkshire fire service's plan to share control rooms with the Surrey brigade.

Surrey's Reigate control centre would handle all 999 calls usually dealt with at Dee Road in Tilehurst, Reading, under the plan.

The FBU said the changes "would deliver an inferior level of service".

The service said the move was an option as the county's fire operations would move to Hampshire in 2012 anyway.

'Significant investment'

According to the FBU, the Dee Road control room - housing 35 firefighters working 24/7 split shifts - handles more than 10,000 emergency calls annually.

Laura Fellows, the command and control branch representative of the FBU, said: "Firefighters and control members in the Royal Berkshire Fire [Service] control centre wish to express their disappointment and concern at hearing this news."

Earlier this month, Olaf Bars, Berkshire's deputy chief fire officer, told BBC news: "The time has come when we have either got to make a significant investment in the technology there or we have got to do something different [and] this is one of the areas we are currently looking at.

"[Local knowledge] comes from the firefighters and all our fire stations and that information is put within the IT systems and is available wherever you are."

Mr Bars went on to say a decision would be made at the end of the year.

'Integral to safety'

But Ms Fellows added: "[Mr Bars] has made statements which expose a lack of comprehension to the limitations of caller location technology and the importance of local knowledge in dealing with emergency 999 calls to the fire service.

"The role, knowledge, professionalism and exemplary level of service delivered by firefighters (control), in Berkshire, is integral to the safety of the public and firefighters."

The new South East centre in Hampshire to be launched in 2012 will cover Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Isle of Wight, Surrey, Sussex and Oxfordshire.

Last month, the BBC learned the £423m project for nine new regional control rooms to be built across England, which was approved by the previous government, could be scaled back to five.

The previous government said they would cut costs and improve response times.

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