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Isle of Man Fire and Rescue Service

13th May, 2013

“Multitone has a product which we see as excellent value for money and that meets the rigorous demands we put upon it. We are very happy with the service Multitone provides and the performance of the new system.”

Robert Williamson, Technical Consultant,

Isle of Man Government Department of Home Affairs, Communications Division    

The Isle of Man Fire and Rescue Service, a division of the Department of Home Affairs, proudly serves the residents and visitors to the island. The service has 53 fulltime fire-fighters based at Douglas Fire Station and 110 retained fire-fighters based at Douglas, Laxey, Ramsey, Kirk Michael, Peel, Port Erin and Castletown fire stations, plus a total of six civilian support staff. The Island’s Fire and Rescue Service is responsible for a budget of £4.8million for 2012-13.

In 2004 the Department of Home Affairs Communications Division  opened the world’s first emergency services joint control room, co-ordinating the Police, Fire and Ambulance Services, all at one location. At the same time it introduced its own independent TETRA system for use by all government departments, instead of having disparate radio systems for each service. Not only does this model save money on facilities, it also frees up staff and resources that would otherwise have been duplicated for each Service.

In 2009 the Communications Division embarked on a 5 year Communications Development Programme. One of the key areas in the programme was an update of the alerting system for the Fire and Rescue Service (with most of the system having been in place since 1992) to meet increased call traffic demands and modern telecoms systems, so the Department of Home Affairs turned to its long-term critical communications provider Multitone to work together on a development programme to upgrade the alerting infrastructure and fortify the resilience of the network.

Using a combined control room offers excellent benefits but as Robert Williamson, Technical Consultant, Isle of Man Department of Home Affairs, Communications Division explains, it also brings fresh challenges, “The communications division has responsibility for all communication matters, so any issues have to be resolved through us. We procure systems and we manage and maintain them on behalf of the individual users for police, fire, ambulance, utilities, prisons, and customs & excise. If there are any problems these can potentially affect many departments, so it is essential that we have highly reliable and user-friendly solutions to get the job done.”

With a long-term and highly successful working relationship, the Department of Home Affairs Communications Division and Multitone went through a detailed process to look at the requirements for a new system, as Williamson described, “We first got involved with Multitone in 1992 for the implementation of an alerting system for the Fire Service. We continued to work with Multitone, developing, progressing and evolving the system to meet the on-going changes that the Fire Service required from its own control room. In 2004 we migrated that into the emergency services joint control room integrated with the new TETRA radio system and all the other changes that we wanted to bring about. We had a strategic team that managed the integration of all the systems which consisted of the TETRA radio system providers, control room providers and the Multitone alerting system. Obviously everything has to integrate – that was the big task that we had at the time to integrate all these disparate systems into one that could operate as a whole.”

To ensure a smooth continuation of service, the alerting system infrastructure update programme has been implemented in various phases, as Williamson explained, “We felt that the best way to mitigate any disruption was to gradually replace the parts of the infrastructure. We have replaced the station-end equipment and transmitters and are in the process of changing to the new Multitone alerters - so it’s been a gradual three-year programme to bring us up to date with the very latest technology. The Isle of Man Fire and Rescue Service is the primary user of the Multitone alerter system, but the same alerter system is also used for our coastguard and for our civil defence. Multitone has adapted the operating systems so both the coastguard and civil defence can use them as well.”

The newly updated systems have already been tested in the real world - during the heavy snowfall at the beginning of 2013, as Williamson elaborates, “We have had the worst weather on the Isle of Man for the last 50 years in terms of snow! The island almost came to a standstill. Everything from getting people evacuated from houses, getting supplies to people, dealing with 999 calls in remote areas – it was all dealt with through the control room. Our activities in the control room almost trebled from what we normally do, during a particularly challenging period of five days. In essence its one control centre with one radio system that meets the requirements of all the users. It’s very easy to think that in an emergency you only need the emergency services, however you also need to be able to coordinate the electricity authority, the water authority and the roads division (all of which are government departments in the Isle of Man), so it’s all about the coordination, which in turn leads to a successful conclusion and that is what we are all about.  At the end of the day we have a mission statement to assist the emergency services to deal with people in distress as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

Williamson was very impressed by the results, as he continued, “The system was very good and we coped well. Our biggest problem was getting the resources to the areas where people needed them. We had to mobilize specialist fire service appliances to get through the snow to some remote houses that had lost electricity for 4 days, so there were some challenging times but the system coped well as it has done for 10 years - we are very proud of it.”

With a proven track record and excellent working relationship with Multitone, Williamson is candid on the reasons for working with the communications provider, “The product is well proven, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that it is the market leader. We always ensure that we get the best value for money, we compare prices and specifications and we negotiate hard.  But at the end of the day Multitone has a product which we see as excellent value for money and that meets the rigorous demands we put upon it. We are very happy with the service Multitone provides and the performance of the new system.”

Now the upgrade has almost been completed the emphasis is on maintaining effective procedures that keep pace with the needs of the island and its occupants, as Williamson concludes, “We continue to keep a keen eye on maintaining the on-going resilience of the system. Critical communications must work exactly when they are needed and people’s lives often depend upon it. It’s no good our emergency teams getting to a major house fire and the communications are not operating properly. We have full confidence in Multitone, its products and their ability to make sure that we can continue to provide the best support that we can to the whole of the Isle of Man.”

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Isle of Man Fire and Rescue Service