One of the first and most advanced command and control units ever to be commissioned by a UK emergency authority has entered service with Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service.
The fully self-sustaining unit is capable of simultaneously capturing, co-ordinating and integrating three separate layers of multi-agency communications in real time. In addition, it can effectively apply its own wireless mesh network around an entire fireground – as well as hosting real time links with Gold and Silver command centres, external media channels, a free-sat television system and even a Heli-Tele option.
Built by market leading specialist vehicle converter and integrator, MacNeillie, in close collaboration with Telent, Merseyside’s ICT provider, the Incident Management Unit (IMU) as it is called, carries a crew of two and is deployed automatically to any incident which requires more than three appliances.
Based on an extra long wheelbase Mercedes-Benz Sprinter high roof panel van, the 5-tonne gross vehicle weight unit provides an on-board operating saloon with two fully equipped IT workstation positions and adjacent racks for electronic systems.
A body length extendable awning is fitted to the nearside of the vehicle which, when erected, can be enclosed with separately attached side front and skirt panels to create a 4.6m x 3.0m external briefing area. A 40” external display screen is mounted on the nearside of the vehicle within the awning area. In addition to a full suite of audio and visual warning systems, the vehicle carries a public address facility.
A large rear stowage area accommodates equipment such as remote cameras, communications nodes, portable power packs and toughbook computers. All portable equipment is stored on charge when on the vehicle.
The rear area also accommodates an 8KvA silent run generator, with provision for shoreline connection if required. Antennae and a red / white incident control beacon are mounted on a 1.8 metre Clark mast and the roof of the vehicle is strengthened to accommodate a satellite dish.
The IMU Project has been led throughout by MFRS’s Station Manager, Gary Oakford, a fire fighter with over 20 years experience. “The original concept for this unit began in 2007 when we recognised the need to have a fully mobile, future-proof and sophisticated command and control system to support our fire fighters across the Merseyside area.
The vehicle we have just commissioned is the culmination of a complex 18 month build programme – during which we have been extremely fortunate to have the close working relationships we have with MacNeillie and Telent. We know our efforts have been worthwhile – not least from the number of other services that have already come to observe it in action as an example of best practice”, says Gary.
Merseyside Acting Chief Fire Officer Dan Stephens – who also holds national resilience responsibility for urban search and rescue says, “Merseyside presents amongst the most diverse and potentially challenging areas in the country for fire risk and incident management.
Despite being a geographically compact area, it has a population of 1.4 million people, and covers risks from petrochemicals on the Wirral, through industry, manufacturing, the airport and the docks, through to the cockle beds off Southport in the north. In addition, we have all the inherent variants of risk that come with inner city areas – so we have to be fully capable for all eventualities. I am extremely proud of our service and its supply chain that Merseyside has set a new standard for this kind of operation”.