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Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service

17th November, 2013

“Multitone has proven its reliability as well as its innovation. All the equipment has proven to be robust and highly suitable for its purpose. The Multitone team has also been very helpful and a pleasure to work with.”

Rob Lacey, Head of IT, Telecoms and Resilience

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service  

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service’s aim is to promote safer communities by preventing accidents and emergencies from happening, as well as protecting people and the environment from imminent danger. It is part of Gloucestershire County Council’s ‘Delivery’ structure, and alongside Fire and Rescue response it incorporates Emergency Management, Road Safety and Emergency Medical Co-Responding. With its headquarters based within the county's Tri-Service Centre in Quedgeley, Gloucester with the Police and Ambulance Services, Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service has 22 stations across the county, 6 Wholetime stations in Cheltenham, Gloucester, Cirencester and Stroud and 16 other Retained stations.

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) had a reliable but limited alerter infrastructure, with no capability for remote management, monitoring or network integration. The organisation assessed its existing emergency communications systems and turned to critical communications provider Multitone for assistance in upgrading its alerter system with the intention of achieving greater flexibility and automation from its investments. With the majority of its stations being staffed by retained crews, the critical communications alerting system is a key component to Gloucestershire FRS being able to maintain the levels of service required to keep the public safe.

Rob Lacey, Head of IT, Telecoms and Resilience, Gloucestershire FRS, commented, “Originally we had an ageing alerter system for the retained side of the fire service and it had become out of date for our needs. Our previous system was relatively inflexible, with pre-programmed functions and no remote access. Although the system had reliably provided a service for a number of years, the review suggested we could gain a much higher level of usability with an upgrade. With a lack of technical support due to its age, we were looking for a more user-friendly replacement, so we initially replaced one alerter system with Multitone MG4 system in 2009 and that was our first experience of working with Multitone.”

With the success of its pioneer system, Gloucestershire FRS replaced additional units in key locations as Lacey continued, “We looked at what other emergency service providers were doing and what they had in place. Having got the first alerter system from Multitone in the first quarter of 2009 we were very impressed with the benefits of using it.  Remote management, historical logging and ease of configuration were attractive features, as was a 24-hour battery backup. We could see that these were highly desirable benefits, both in terms of resilience and maintenance – working perfectly with our existing IT to make the collaboration of communications and IT a lot easier. Over time we replaced all our alerter systems with Multitone and integrated them with the wide area network. Then in early 2012 we received funding from the government for a new Control Room infrastructure and chose Multitone. The equipment had proven its reliability, was integrated with existing systems, and was compatible with Control Room systems. We also wanted to have a more fluid relationship with our communications partners. Knowing Multitone and its products well, we felt it was an ideal time to work with it to roll out new systems to the fire stations, upgrading the station end equipment at each.”

Gloucestershire FRS is different from urban Brigades in that the majority of its fire stations use Retained Firefighters – no one is permanently on site. This brings its own challenges. In the retained station there is no one there until the alarm is activated, there is the Multitone Station End Equipment and we rely upon the MG4 transmitter that pages crews in the local area.”

One of the key benefits of the new system for Gloucestershire FRS is the ability to be able to check for potential faults and to run diagnostic checks remotely from a central point. The previous solution caused challenges with regards to this ability for maintenance and reporting, as Lacey continued, “With the old equipment the mobilising outstation would be checking that it could see your alerter equipment, but if the mobilising outstation failed you had no idea if your alerters were working. The new system however uses IP networking, so you can connect to them independently to test them remotely.” The new Multitone solution constantly checks communication to both the mobilising outstation and the alerter system, and if there is a failure it sends emails to inform the IT team and Control Room. If there is an outage, the team know certain stations have problems and that alternative methods of communication to the alerters (such as phone lines) will need to be used.

The practical benefits of using Multitone’s alerter system have been two fold. Whilst Gloucestershire FRS has benefitted from big improvements in flexibility and control of its vital communications, the changes for the Firefighters themselves have been minimal, which has actually been a benefit in itself, as Lacey explained, “There has effectively been no real difference for the fire fighters as such - the alerters still go off in exactly the same way, so this is not different from their point of view. We also kept their existing firefighter alerters, so additional training was not required.”

The improvements for the technical teams however, have been significant, “From an operational point of view we have seen very noticeable enhancements.”

Another obvious benefit is the ability to be able to manage alert logs remotely from one location. Lacey commented, “Before we had to physically visit the station to make changes. Now we can browse remotely and it can tell you if there are any problems. We can look at the activity of alert activation, knowing exactly when the alarm went off so there is no confusion. Not having to travel to do this saves considerable time and money that can be used on vital front-line services.”

Rather than being an ‘off the peg’ solution, Multitone’s alerter system has helped Gloucestershire FRS to achieve some of its more bespoke aims, as Lacey elaborated, “One of the most impressive things we’ve been able to do with the Multitone equipment is greatly improve our alerter coverage in difficult locations. There is a feature called selective alerting, which allows one Fire Station to transmit the alert for others. In some areas of the Cotswolds and the Forest of Dean we have stations transmitting alerts for three or more of their neighbours. On undulating terrain we’ve found alerter coverage increase significantly, which helps both firefighters and the public.”

The flexibility and rack-mounted form of Multitone equipment has also helped with unusual requirements.  As Lacey describes “The networked side of the outstations has allowed us to implement some fairly different solutions to support resilience. We’ve a lot of satellite experience in Gloucestershire, and have been able to mobilise crews over satellite at different times. We’ve done this during fire station moves, at temporary locations and to support interim solutions during challenging periods. As long as you can get a connection between two locations you can integrate anywhere. It doesn’t have to be in a physical fire station, we’ve done it from trailers and flight cases, connected over satellite to Headquarters.  You can create a fire station or alert local crews from pretty much anywhere. Also, because Multitone has built all the features into its systems, it is well future-proofed, offering possible integration of third party responders. This could include category two responders, voluntary organisations or partners from other emergency services”.

As well as the flexibility of the Multitone systems, Gloucestershire FRS has been impressed by its reliability and integrity, as Lacey concludes, “Multitone has proven its reliability as well as its innovation. All the equipment has proven to be robust and highly suitable for its purpose. The Multitone team has also been very helpful and a pleasure to work with. We always deal with highly experienced engineers, which is invaluable.  The whole service from initial consultation through to implementation and maintenance has been faultless and we would happily recommend Multitone to other emergency services providers.”