Suffolk: We’re losing control - ex-fire chief raises alarm over operations centre switch

SUFFOLK: A former fire chief today raised concerns over the imminent closure of Suffolk’s control room – and admitted the county is taking a “leap of faith” by transferring the service to Cambridgeshire.

Malcolm Alcock spoke out on the eve of Suffolk becoming the first authority to switch its control operations to an out of county base.

The controversial decision, approved in this year’s budget – means for the first time ever 999 calls to the Fire and Rescue Service will be handled outside Suffolk.

Mr Alcock said: “I am not in a position to criticise the decision, but I do have concerns that Suffolk is the first to merge its control centre.”

He knew everyone involved in the decision would have looked at all aspects and would be confident about it, but he added: “As the first in the country it is something of a leap of faith.”

In the past concerns have been raised about the loss of local knowledge among controllers once the control centre in Huntingdon is up and running.

The similar regionalisation of the ambulance service in the 1990s had caused problems which has subsequently been eased.

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Mr Alcock said staff would have to work hard to ensure the usual high standards were maintained while the new control centre bedded in.

But added he will “take a lot of convincing that it will be better”.

The former fire chief has also hit out at the “shabby” way staff have been treated.

The Ipswich centre has had 23 staff – but only a maximum of eight new posts are being created at Cambridgeshire’s control centre at Huntingdon.

And the 15 who face losing their jobs are unable to apply to transfer to other county council posts because they were formally transferred to Cambridgeshire fire authority earlier this year.

Mr Alcock said: “I think they have been pretty shabbily treated. They have been working very well for seven years with the prospect of closure looming.

“Now this is happening and they are not able to apply for county council jobs as a serving employee – like others who lose their jobs at the council.”

Mr Alcock, who was chief fire officer from 1997-2004, said the control room staff were a vital ingredient of the service.

Andy Vingoe, county chairman of the Fire Brigades Union, said staff felt let down.

“They were transferred from Suffolk County Council and now don’t have the chance to apply for jobs in the authority,” he said.

Union regional secretary Adrian Clarke said: “Suffolk is the first county to lose its own control room. It may work, it may not. The people of Suffolk are being used as a test bed.”

n Are you worried about the closure of the control centre? Do you think the loss of local knowledge is a genuine worry? Write to your letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or alternatively you can send an e-mail to