Bucks Fire Service welcomed into Thames Valley Fire control service

Plans for a joint TVFCS between Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service (RBFRS) and Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service (OFRS) were approved by their respective governing bodies in July this year.  RBFRS and OFRS had been working in partnership on these plans since the Government’s national FiReControl project – which would have seen individual Control functions replaced with nine regional centres – came to an end in 2010.

The original proposals for the TVFCS included collaboration with Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service (BFRS) but in September 2011, Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Authority (BMKFA) chose to pursue an alternative option with Cambridgeshire and Suffolk Fire and Rescue Services.  However, BFRS has now put forward a recommendation to join the TVFCS to Fire Authority Members.

Improved services

BMKFA approved this proposal at an extraordinary Fire Authority meeting held today (Wednesday 31 October).  The plans are now subject to further approval by Royal Berkshire Fire Authority and Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet Members. 

BFRS is welcomed as a potential addition to the TVFCS, as this will further enhance the programme’s aim of providing an improved service to the public and greater safety for firefighters.  Along with the use of the most up-to-date risk information and technology, this will be achieved by using common messaging and radio procedures, and standardised ways of operational working across the three fire and rescue services, which will lead to better incident attendance times.

The addition of BFRS to the programme will also further strengthen resilience, as it will make the TVFCS co-terminus with both Thames Valley Police and the Local Resilience Forum.  This will streamline strategic decision making and operational command, particularly in the event of a major incident. 

Increased efficiency

Another key aim of the TVFCS is to increase efficiency.  This will be further improved by the inclusion of BFRS, as it will lead to a reduction in the cost per emergency call taken due to the implementation of more efficient call handling processes.  There will also be the potential for further efficiency savings as technical infrastructures and standardised operational procedures are established.

Following the termination of the FiReControl project, the Government made grant funding available to support fire and rescue services in developing new arrangements for their Control functions.  Along with RBFRS and OFRS, BFRS was awarded grant funding earlier this year, which will now be invested in the TVFCS.

Subject to political approval, work will begin on a revised, detailed staffing model to establish how many posts will now be required for the TVFCS and a full HR staff consultation process will be conducted at the appropriate time.  All three fire and rescue services are committed to supporting their staff throughout the change process. 

The location of the TVFCS will remain unchanged as within RBFRS’ new headquarters in Calcot, near Reading, which will include purpose-built accommodation for the new joint Control, including improved security measures.  A non-staffed secondary Control room will still be located in Kidlington, Oxfordshire.

The overall programme deadline is not expected to be affected by the proposal for BFRS to join the TVFCS, which is still anticipated to go live in April 2014.

Cost-effective service

David Etheridge, Chief Fire Officer at OFRS, said: “We have always worked closely with our neighbouring fire and rescue services and Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service’s proposal to join us in a shared Control service will support and enhance this even further.  Having Buckinghamshire on board will make us a truly Thames Valley Fire Control Service, which will link our three fire and rescue services in a seamless way and provide an optimum service to the public we serve.”

Olaf Baars, Deputy Chief Fire Officer at RBFRS, said: “The potential for further collaborations with other organisations has always been a key part of the planning for our joint Control function and I am delighted that Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service has chosen to join the Thames Valley Fire Control Service.  I am confident that this prospective new development will lead to an even better, more cost-effective service for the people of Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.”