Are Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s IT problems putting lives at risk?

PUBLISHED: 11:55 26 January 2018 | UPDATED: 11:58 26 January 2018

Fire crews liaise during an emergency exercise. Picture: Herts Fire and Rescue Service

Fire crews liaise during an emergency exercise. Picture: Herts Fire and Rescue Service

JAY HOUNSELL

The control centre co-ordinating the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service is being beset by IT problems and computer glitches that are causing delays to call-outs and putting lives in danger – according to an inside source.

Computer problems have been dogging Herts Fire and Rescue's control centre according to an inside source. Picture: Archant. Picture: Herts Fire and Rescue Service.Computer problems have been dogging Herts Fire and Rescue's control centre according to an inside source. Picture: Archant. Picture: Herts Fire and Rescue Service.

The allegations come after the Herts-wide fire control centre – which operates out of a base at Longfield in Stevenage’s Hitchin Road – recently moved on to a new IT system which will eventually link it with those in Norfolk, Humberside and Lincolnshire.

Herts Fire Control is a guinea pig for the new IT system before it gets rolled out to the other centres.

An operational source, who has worked with the fire service for many years, made the damning claims about the new system after the control centre in Stevenage had to be shut down for 15 hours last Monday.

Herts County Council said this was due to a power failure and that calls were transferred to the Norfolk control centre as a matter of routine, but the source told this paper the power supply problem was the last straw.

Herts Fire and rescue firefighters dealing with an emergency. Picture: Herts Fire and Rescue Service.Herts Fire and rescue firefighters dealing with an emergency. Picture: Herts Fire and Rescue Service.

He said: “It’s laughable that this is a professional emergency service running on such a poor system. It’s madness.

“I routinely spend four or five hours each day trying to get into the computer systems.

“It’s very difficult trying to organise the availability of firefighters to be on call as it’s all on the system. During the power failure we were having to use our own WhatsApp group to try to find out who was available.

“I absolutely believe that the lack of faith in the system when we go out to a job is putting lives in danger.”

Although it is standard procedure to transfer to the Norfolk control centre if there are major problems at Stevenage such as a power failure, the source says that this is far from ideal because Norfolk is still using an earlier computer system – making it difficult to transfer information.

He says computer systems onboard the fire engines which give firefighters crucial information about the location of incidents and fire hydrants are also not working properly.

Herts County Council agreed there have been problems but says its is not interfering with firefighters’ ability to deal with emergencies.

A spokesman for the council said: “This is a brand new and complex system, and it’s inevitable that there will be some teething problems. We have identified a number of issues and we are working with Capita to address these.

“While these issues are frustrating for both HFRS Fire Control and operational crews, they are not preventing us from delivering an effective emergency response.”

Chief Fire Officer Darryl Keen added: “It is essential that we update IT systems to keep pace with technology and this upgrade is part of an on-going programme. Throughout the development and since implementation I have been immensely proud of the commitment and professionalism demonstrated by the HFRS Fire Control and IT teams in working through the issues that have been identified with the new system.”

The council says it is confident that Capita is fully aware of the importance of resolving the remaining issues quickly, and remains confident in the programme to deliver a joint mobilisation system for the people of Hertfordshire, Humberside, Lincolnshire and Norfolk.

A Capita spokeswoman told this paper that it would not be providing a separate response due to the points being covered by the county council.

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