CAMBS-SUFFOLK: Emergency fire call connected to wrong centre

CRITICS of a fire service merger have heaped further disdain on the move after an emergency call was connected to the wrong control centre on the day of the new system’s launch.

Brigade union bosses last night said their anxieties had been confirmed by the mix-up, which resulted in the now defunct Suffolk control room responding to a call from the Woodlands mental health facility at the Ipswich Hospital site in Heath Road.

A male patient was rescued from the building and treated for smoke inhalation after fire broke out at about 3.20pm on Wednesday - but the alarm raised by hospital staff had been directed to Suffolk’s redundant control room, rather than the new centre at Cambridgeshire headquarters in Huntingdon.

The fire service said the call was relayed immediately and a fire engine deployed without delay from Princes Street in Ipswich, arriving at the hospital within eight minutes - but the firefighters’ union nevertheless condemned the oversight, having already questioned the cost-cutting merger.

Suffolk’s Fire Brigades Union secretary, Peter Taylor, said: “The call somehow went through to the now redundant control room. There could have been potentially huge fallout.

“It raises serious questions. This can not be passed off as simply a glitch.”

Of the 24 staff previously based in the Suffolk control room, only six have transferred to the new site.

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After arriving at the hospital firefighters entered the building and extinguished a small blaze, rescuing a male patient suffering from smoke inhalation. He was resuscitated at the scene and taken to Ipswich Hospital for treatment.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk Mental Health Partnership confirmed that there were no reported delays in the response.

Mark Hardingham, Suffolk’s Deputy Chief Fire Officer, added: “The call came via a direct telephone line from the hospital, rather than through the 999 network. It was answered by qualified control staff at our previous control room at Colchester Road.

“The staff were there to provide support during the transition to the combined control room in Huntingdon, should it be needed.

“The call was relayed directly to fire control in Huntingdon and a fire engine was deployed immediately, in accordance with Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service’s attendance standards.”

The joint emergency control centre began operating yesterday and is the first example in the country of emergency calls being answered outside the county.

Fire service bosses had been at pains to assure residents of both counties that the merger would provide a better service, despite a reduction in the number of operators taking emergency calls.

The Fire Brigades Union was concerned about the loss of local knowledge in Suffolk.

Mr Taylor said: “This is an untested system and here we are looking at this situation after the first day.

“We take no pleasure whatsoever in saying it has confirmed our fears. How many other oversights can we expect?

“God forbid what might have happened had staff not picked up the call. There will have undoubtedly been a delay in responding anyway.”