CONTROVERSIAL plans to centralise Lancashire fire and rescue service’s emergency control centre at Warrington went live yesterday.

Union leaders have expressed concerns regarding the experience people lost after 24 redundancies were made followed the closure of the county control room at Broughton and the pressure faced by their replacements at the £36.7million regional hub.

But fire brigade bosses are adamant that, as well as saving north west services nearly £20milliion over the next 12 years, the new regime will allow for the more ‘dynamic’ dispatching of engines to emergencies and improved tracking systems.

Kevin Deacon, Lancashire Fire Brigades Union chairman, said: “Technology is great when it works — but what’s going to happen when there are a heavy number of calls, either at peak times or when there is flooding or moorland fires?

“We have concerns about the shift system and the pressure staff will be under, whether there will be call stacking, or even call filtering, at peak times.”

The old control room always had a minimum of five operators, for Lancashire, alone, but under the north west model there would only be seven for the county, Greater Manchester, Cumbria and Cheshire, added Mr Deacon, who blamed Government funding cuts on the moves.

Cath Smith, a former control watch manager who lost her job after 37 years, said: “They are under-crewed there as it is. Staff will just be a ‘face in the crowd’ instead of being part of a team or a watch.”

Fire chiefs say the public should not notice changes in making emergency calls but should benefit from upgraded caller identification measures.

And they have insisted that ‘there is no evidence’ that lives and property would be put at risk by leaving 999 calls in the hands of operators with limited geographical knowledge.

Brigade sources in Lancashire say that Sarah Wilson, who worked in the county for 21 years, has transferred to Warrington to become senior operations manager.

The call handling for Cheshire and Cumbria is already based there, Lancashire joined them from 2pm yesterday and Greater Manchester control moves there from next Wednesday.

The Merseyside brigade opted to establish a joint control room with the county constabulary.