Joanne Smith, Senior Operations Manager from London Fire Brigade Control Room tells us how she got in to the control room and how its the most satisfying job.
I have worked in Fire Control rooms for 23 years, joining in 1995 during a very hot summer and remember well watching the radio operator deal controlling a constant stream of radio traffic for what seemed like days on end.
I sort of fell into Fire Control, really because my Granddad, Dad and Uncle were all firefighters, with my Aunty working in Control so I knew the role and liked the idea that every shift was different and you never knew what you would end up dealing with. From the first day I joined its always been exciting. Initially there was so much to learn and understand but I was so interested in it that I wanted to ensure I knew all the procedures and processes.
It has always been a very satisfying role, from speaking to members of the public being able to offer reassurance and assistance through to ensuring that you mobilise the right resources and provide information to officers and partner agencies and supporting those crews on scene until a successful resolution.
Teamwork is essential and you form a close bond with your watch, being to intuitively know what your teammates are dealing with to support you and the incident with little communication.
They often say Control officers grow ‘third ear’ which allows them not only to listen to a caller or a radio message but also be alert to a number of other incidents and actions happening in the control room all at once. When you have honed this skill the role of supervising becomes your next challenge.
I now manage London Fire Control so don’t get the opportunity to take calls as much as I would like. I still miss it and am always envious when a large incident is unfolding, with multiple calls and the need for instant decisions to be made by supervisors.
I have been very lucky in my career, having the opportunity to attend incidents as part of the Command team on Control units dealing with major fires such as Southend Pier and Buncefield. It’s great to experience and develop understanding of the demands of the Fire ground and this have allowed me to balance those with the demands of Control room to make the incident rum smoothly.
However Grenfell Tower was unlike anything I or any of the Control staff on duty that night have ever experienced and every time I think about that night I am overwhelmed with pride in what the Control room did and how they coped.
In this job teamwork is essential and you form a close bond with your watch. Being intuitive – knowing what your teammates are dealing with little communication
My biggest challenge, throughout my career has been for Fire Control rooms to be better recognised within their services and the wider Emergency Service Family and to insure that the next generation of Fire Control officer develop and use their skills to lead Fire and Rescue Services.
I’ve been fortunate to work with Government, and the National Fire Chiefs Council encouraging them to provide improved guidance for Fire Control rooms so they have the opportunity to continue to develop and be at the forefront of providing advice and guidance to their communities, as well as using the most technological advances to locate callers, their emergencies and assist members of the public and our fire crews remotely.
Fire controls generally feel remote from the rest of the organisation, a bit of a thankless job so a week where control rooms are recognised is a great way to make staff feel appreciated and know that the role they carry out is vital. Every emergency starts with a call to Control and those calls are answered by #UnsungHeroes.