City staff warn of ‘critical’ situation at fire call centre

Edinburgh fire and rescue workers have warned of a 'critical' situation. Picture: John Devlin.
Edinburgh fire and rescue workers have warned of a 'critical' situation. Picture: John Devlin.
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A WHISTLEBLOWER has warned of a “critical” situation at a new fire and rescue call centre in the Capital.

Staff claim they are at breaking point and say they live in fear of an error similar to the M9 incident near Stirling that claimed two lives last July.

Lamara Bell, 25, and John Yuill, 28, were left for almost three days after police failed to attend the scene.

Insiders at the new Edinburgh call centre - which goes live on Wednesday - claim it is woefully understaffed.

One said: “Stress levels have been rocketing.

“Staff don’t feel like they’ve been trained properly and haven’t had enough time to get to grips with what is a life or death job.

“It’s too much too soon. We don’t believe management are aware of just how critical the situation is.”

She also said there were problems with the software which despatches fire engines to 999 calls.

“When a call comes in we have a number of screens in front of us,” she said. “The software drills into the caller’s number, highlighting where it is on a map. The nearest resources are then alerted to the job.

“But there have been problems with the geo-alert system recently.

“In one recent incident that I’m aware of a call came in for an incident in Drymen but somehow appliances in Dunblane were mobilised.”

After the M9 tragedy, a report concluded that staff at Police Scotland’s Bilston Service Centre were under “unacceptably high levels of pressure”.

It found a “number of weaknesses” in the new national call handling system.

There are now fears that Scottish Fire and Rescue’s streamlining of its call handling service could lead to a similar tragedy.

Edinburgh-based union officials have taken the “unprecedented step” of writing a letter highlighting staff concerns.

It is due to be put before brigade chiefs.

The document highlights “critically low” staffing levels and calls for concerns to be taken seriously “before it’s too late”.

Chris McGlone, of the Fire Brigades Union, confirmed the issues would be put before service management.

“Serious concerns have been raised,” he said. “A meeting has been set up at which senior management, control staff and the FBU will all be present to try to resolve the matter.”

Assistant Chief Officer Lewis Ramsay, of Scottish Fire and Rescue, said: “We recognise that change can be difficult for some staff and we have worked in partnership with the Fire Brigades Union to deliver a comprehensive package of support and training for all control room operators.

“The programme to improve our control room capabilities has been audited throughout. Staff are given the opportunity to share their views and at no time were we made aware of any significant issues with the working environment.

“We have taken steps to understand the concerns raised and will work with our teams to address these wherever possible.”