July marked five years since the official opening of Thames Valley Fire Control Service (TVFCS) by Rt Hon Mark Francois MP, then Minister with responsibility for fire and rescue services.
Dignitaries from Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Royal Berkshire attended the opening ceremony to celebrate the successful culmination of Thames Valley joint working.
The tri-service centre, based at Newsham Court in Calcot, was a result of a three-year collaboration project, replacing the individual fire and rescue service Control rooms in Aylesbury, Kidlington and Reading.
The TVFCS team, led by Group Manager Simon Harris, is currently made up of 43 members of staff. One team member – Chris Hunt, worked in Buckinghamshire Fire Control before transferring to Newsham Court and can recall many changes of the years: “Our knowledge of the area and the different fire services we cover has grown and we’ve now really gelled as a ‘Thames Valley’ team.”
Since its opening, the specialist centre has taken over 169,000 calls and has dealt with a wide range of incidents with constant professionalism. One of the most significant was the collapse of Didcot Power Station on 23 February 2016. This major incident, coordinated by TVFCS, resulted in numerous emergency vehicle movements involving appliances and officers from across the UK. The team dealt with the incident with effectiveness and professionalism whilst under pressure.
Serving the community in an emergency requires robust and state-of-art technology. The centre has to keep up to date with the latest systems to ensure the most appropriate and quickest response is given. The latest introduction, the BT Advanced Mobile Location system was introduced in September 2019. This provides TVFCS with a more accurate location of the mobile caller leading to a speedier response.
Response is just one of the activities monitored by the TVFCS Joint Committee which is chaired by Councillor Judith Heathcoat, who said: “I am honoured to lead the governance for such a team. It is very important for our committee to work closely with our TVFCS colleagues to put the correct procedures in place and offer the best service possible to the residents in the Thames Valley region. Alongside that, we are committed to our ongoing duty in supporting the welfare of employees and creating a healthy working environment”.
Its Vice-Chair and long-time member Councillor Angus Ross, commented: “Over the past five years I have had the pleasure of seeing the merging of three response centres to one cohesive team assisting the Thames Valley community. The introduction of system innovations, coupled with excellent training and support during this period, have resulted in a dedicated operator centre for the three fire and rescue services. This is a wonderful example of how collaboration can work and we will continue to pursue the right opportunities to build on our successes to date.”
Another committee overseeing the centre is the Joint Coordinating Group chaired by Area Commander, Dave Norris from Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service: “The TVFCS Joint Coordination Group provides the day to day management of TVFCS and as Chair, I always promote close joint working within the Thames Valley fire and rescue service. Since its formation five years ago, TVFCS has delivered financial savings and performance improvements directly to the public. Formed from officers from each of the fire and rescue services, the Joint Coordination supports continual improvement and best practice. TVFCS has ambitious plans for the future including mobilising system, communications and information upgrades.”
The development of TVFCS has further improved the way in which emergency resources are mobilised to incidents across the three counties. This has resulted in greater efficiencies and resilience, ultimately resulting in a further improved service for the people of the Thames Valley. TVFCS has supported harmonisation of over the border procedures and produced cost savings of over £1.2 million per year for the three fire and rescue services.
The ongoing Thames Valley collaboration programme involves all emergency services in the region to introduce joint ways of working to further improve the safeguarding of communities. TVFCS will be one of the main contributors to the initiative and help drive the changes.
As Group Manager, Simon Harris, explains: “The creation of the Thames Valley Fire Control was an ambitious project, which aimed to provide an excellent Control room service, whilst reducing running costs for our fire and rescue services. It is testament to the hard work of all involved, from our elected members who have championed TVFCS to the Control room staff answering 999 calls 24 hours a day 365 days a year, that the goals of that initial project have been realised. We have a Control room which provides an excellent service to the public of Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Royal Berkshire that is ready to meet any challenges that the future may hold.”