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Equipment failure

Hazard Knowledge

Equipment failure in the fire control room can take several forms, including call handling equipment, mobilising equipment and software or communications equipment between fire control rooms and operational resources.

Fire and rescue service resources are mobilised through a number of separate software applications and hardware systems. In addition, the various methods of communication rely on both software and hardware systems. These systems should be regularly maintained to ensure they are readily available for emergency calls handling and mobilising.

Call handling equipment failure

All fire and rescue services are responsible for providing the means of receiving emergency calls (Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 and regional equivalents) and keeping the person responsible for liaising with the call handling agency on the 999/112 service (the '999/112 liaison point') informed of the equipment and the public switch telephone network (PSTN) connections used in every fire control room. To support any unforeseen situation, fire and rescue services must provide equipment that is capable of functioning at all times. The system should be capable of operating through unplanned events such as telephone exchange failure, power failure or hardware failure. The number of calls being received should not prevent emergency calls from being connected to a fire control operator. Three separate routes should be provided for the call handling agency to contact the fire and rescue service. The secondary and tertiary routes would normally only be used if there is an unusually high level of calls or a fault on the primary line. Fire and rescue services should reserve primary lines exclusively for receiving 999/112 calls. A code of practice, known as the Code of Practice for the Public Emergency Call Service (PECS) exists between the emergency services and the call handling agencies to ensure best practice for a quick response to emergency calls. This code of practice is constantly under review by the 999 liaison committee which is chaired by the Fire Policy Unit of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG)

Mobilising equipment failure

The main function of the mobilising system is to aid in recording call information and dispatching the selected resources. Secondary functions include displaying alarm conditions for the system and generating statistical information.

When an incident type and address is entered the system will interrogate its database to match the address information. It may also search for risks, duplicate incidents, telephone kiosks, map references, historical data and so on, to provide the operator with as much information as possible. When an address match is made the operator is presented with a predetermined attendance from the address-based gazetteer. The system makes recommendations, which can be overridden by the operator. The mobilising system also maintains a log for each incident, recording all times and actions associated with that incident.

The mobilising system will also include an interface with remote equipment so that turnout messages can be transmitted. These messages can be sent to resources in a number of ways - for example, data messages may be sent to a computer located in a fire station or other location where resources may be based, even temporarily. Data links between the mobilising system and the station-end equipment can be provided in a number of ways, such as the wide area network and the Public Switched Telephone Network. Multiple bearers are usually employed for resilience.

In the same way that multiple bearers provide resilience against failure in communication routes, data storage and transfer should have in built resilience and disaster recovery. Industry standards for this are constantly being updated as technology progresses.

In most instances the communications network will comprise a primary, secondary and tertiary back-up bearer.

Communications equipment failure

Fire and rescue services must provide the means for receiving emergency calls. The communication systems adopted may integrate telephone and radio voice services into a common platform that may be able to:

  • Provide clear audio and visual distinction between emergency and non-emergency telephone calls and radio traffic
  • Queue telephony traffic and present priority calls at the top of the queue.
  • Provide an indicator to fire control operators as to how long a call has been in a queue.
  • Manage radio traffic
  • Direct certain telephone call types or call priorities to certain workstations
  • Redirect these calls if there is no one available to answer them or they are not answered within a certain time (Automatic Call Distribution - ACD)
  • Allow supervisors to audio monitor calls
  • Allow supervisors to eavesdrop calls and messages
  • Record and provide instant playback of calls
  • Manage radio assets
  • Serve more than one control room e.g. a collaboration

If this system fails, it would cause disruption to the day to day working of the fire control room. Fire and rescue services should have in place support mechanisms to alleviate this.