Emergency smartphone system is ‘world first’

Fifty members of the public have used 999Eye to send images of ongoing emergencies to West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) in the first month since the smartphone system went live.

999Eye, conceived by WMFS and developed in collaboration with Capita, is believed to be the first solution of its kind in the world. It is helping operators in Staffordshire and West Midlands Fire Control ensure that the most appropriate resources are sent to incidents. This could mean, for serious incidents, sending more fire appliances with crews of five firefighters. Or, in other circumstances, a Brigade Response Vehicle (BRV) with a crew of three could be sent instead of a fully-crewed engine.

People in need of help still call 999 as normal, and there is no change to how firefighters are then mobilised based on the information given.

West Midlands firefighters aim to reach emergencies in which people or buildings are in danger in just five minutes, but the current average is even quicker at four minutes and 44 seconds. Responding to incidents safely, quickly and assertively is key to reducing casualties and damage to homes, businesses and other property.

Now Fire Control staff have the option, once initial resources have been dispatched, to send a secure link to a 999 caller, with their permission, via a text message. The caller clicks on the link, which opens a one-use-only connection between their device’s camera and fire control. Depending on the type of smartphone, they will have the option to take and send photos, live stream video, or both. GPS coordinates are also delivered, helping to pinpoint the exact location of an incident.

Following extensive testing, the secure system has been in operational use for just over a month. It has been used in a variety of situations, including: a building fire in Bilston, requiring 10 firefighters and two fire engines; a car fire in Yardley, Birmingham (pictured here). A relatively small fire to which three firefighters and a BRV were sent; dumped rubbish and electrical appliances on fire in Parkfield, Wolverhampton. One BRV and one fire engine sent; the early identification of chemicals. A photo of a container involved in an incident meant that WMFS’s specialist hazardous materials team could offer early advice remotely and didn’t need to attend, saving vital travel time and keeping the team available for other calls

Watch Commander Eddie Sammons, of WMFS’s Research, Development, Technology and Innovation team, said, “We’re extremely proud to have worked with Capita on 999Eye. We believe we’re the first fire and rescue service in the world to use such technology. People who need our help should still call 999 and tell us what’s happening in the usual way. We’ll then mobilise firefighters like we always have and they’ll aim to arrive in just five minutes if life or property is at risk. 999Eye now gives us the added capability to confirm that we’re sending the most appropriate level and type of resources. It shouldn’t be long before we’re able to relay the images direct to the fire crews as they’re on their way, so they can be even better prepared when they arrive.”

Raymond Fegan, National Sales Manager at PageOne, part of Capita PLC, said, “The team at Capita are delighted to have been involved in the development of this service in conjunction with WMFS and to be hosting it. 999Eye has already allowed the control room staff to re-assess if the initial response is appropriate, deliver further information to responding crews or, as in the case of a potential chemical incident, assess that no resource needed to be sent. All of this is thanks to the ability to have remote eyes on scene, avoiding responding resources being deployed. The solution is secure, simple to use and of immense value to all blue light organisations. 999Eye has already won the BAPCO 2017 conference ‘Product Innovation Award’ for the product that has the greatest impact on public safety communications.”