Fire service safety concerns over new system proposed for Mayo centre

EMERGENCY call operators in Mayo are concerned that lives may be lost due to the planned roll-out of a new communications system.

The West Regional Control Centre (WRCC) is based in Castlebar and is responsible for mobilising 54 fire stations across Connaught and Donegal for emergency call-outs.

Colleagues in Munster Regional Control Centre (MRCC), where the new system is in use, have threatened strike action unless what they describe as 'critical safety concerns' are addressed.

Their main issues with the new system, designed by a French company, and which are also a huge concern to their colleagues in Mayo, are substandard maps, connectivity, and emergency calls dropping.

To date, €14 million has been spent on the system, and that's before it rolls out to other centres.

There are four centres in Ireland who mobilise the fire service and they fall under the remit of the local authority in which they are based, WRCC being Mayo County Council.

Staff in MRCC have been highlighting their concerns to Limerick City and County Council since they went live last October. SIPTU have become involved on their behalf and the design company are now trying to resolve the issues raised.

Staff in Mayo have received some training on the system, which was due to go live in July.

They have been given a verbal assurance that they will not go live until all the issues in MRCC have been rectified. However, the concern locally is that they cannot be fixed.

Issues in particular with poor mapping resonate with the Mayo staff in light of the inquiry into the death of the R116 Coastguard crew where maps failed to show the presence of Blackrock Island.

The fire service, they point out, respond to much more than fires, attending traffic accidents, assisting the ambulance service with various incidents, and reliable maps to get to scenes is essential.

A big worry too is that 999 calls have dropped mid-call, at a time when people are seeking help for all kinds of emergencies, with a concern that missed calls could result in lives ultimately being lost.

A spokesperson said as it stands, staff and the public can not have any confidence in the system proposed.

They want it fixed before it becomes a problem for them, like their colleagues in MRCC.

In a statement, Mayo County Council said the project has three core elements: the migration from the old analogue radio systems to the new Tetra platform; the development of a new national Fire Service Command and Control software platform for all three regions; and the standardisation, to a common national standard, of all operational processes in the three regions.

'The process is ongoing in Mayo, and while much work has been completed, there is significant work remaining.

'We have and will continue to work closely with all our partners in the west region and with the project team to progress the successful implementation of the project including robust testing of all aspects of the system before live operation as well as the required training for all relevant staff.'