Unified comms pumps up Tayside fire service

IM helps firefighters beat chemical spills

IM helps firefighters beat chemical spills

Firefighters in Tayside are using unified communications to transform everything from how they tackle chemical spills to officer training.

Tayside Fire and Rescue serves 392,000 people spread over 7,500sq km, using the comms system to provide voice calls, instant messaging (IM), email and streaming video for officers whether they're on the front line or in the control centre.

During a recent chemical spill involving batteries in industry, firefighters were able to use instant messaging to get the best expert advice on how to tackle the leak, Gary Bellfield, ICT manager at Tayside Fire and Rescue, told silicon.com.

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"Chemical incidents can be very dangerous and when you want to know exactly what chemical you are dealing with the written word is much more effective than verbal communication.

"In a recent industrial incident dealing with spilt chemicals we used IM to contact the National Chemical Emergency Centre, which put us in touch with an expert in Japan, who was one of only three people in the world who knew how to deal with the chemical correctly," he said.

Video streaming is also allowing remote training of officers in isolated rural or partially manned rural stations and voice and video conferencing has slashed by half the number of staff needing to travel between Perth and Dundee for meetings.

Officers deployed at the annual T in the Park festival are also using the voice, instant messaging and video capabilities to keep in close contact with central control in Dundee.

The unified communications system consists of a Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 - in place since last year - and a recently upgraded Nortel IP telephony infrastructure.

Communications are kept rock solid by the F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager, which balances traffic load over the network and ensures that communications can be run even if one of the service's two disaster recovery centres goes down.

Bellfield said: "We needed a flexible communication system that would allow us to work mobile.

"We need the highest level of system availability. Clearly there is the potential for risk of life of our staff and citizens, so we needed the hardware and load balancing capabilities.

"We deliver all of these capabilities for all of our users of communications, from the CEO right down to the janitor."

Tayside employs nearly 800 personnel: 668 operational firefighters and more than 70 support staff, who run 24 strategically located fire stations that operate 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.