West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service puts ESN to the test

Firefighters in West Yorkshire are now putting an Emergency Services Network (ESN) push-to-talk device through its paces, using it alongside Airwave as part of day-to-day operational work. More than 70 ESN devices are now in the hands of a team of Watch Managers at West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS). The team is using Direct 2 (D2) running on a Samsung XCover FieldPro handheld.

This work is all part of the testing in preparation for ESN – a 4G critical communications system, which will replace the current Airwave used by emergency services in Great Britain.

D2 is an early version of ESN, on a ruggedised handheld. Although it won’t be the final product in the hands of firefighters when Airwave is switched off, it is the latest iteration of ESN currently going through the testing process.

The team at WYFRS is putting its batch of ESN devices to good use testing their functionality and exploring the ways in which they could potentially be used in fire and rescue service work on a day to day basis. A key component they are looking to test is the interworking solution, which allows messages to be conveyed via both ESN and Airwave.

Interworking solution

Dave Wrigley, the ESN Technical Development Project Manager for WYFRS, explained, “There are now 71 Watch Managers with devices. They have been used in the same way that the current Airwave handheld device is used.

“The interworking solution connects the two talk groups and retransmits messages onto the other network. If a message comes in on Airwave, it’s taken through the interworking solution and transmitted on the ESN network and vice versa. It enables us to link the two different networks together and repeat messages on each side.”

All those involved in the trial have been familiarising themselves with the feel of the device and how it is used, while also exploring what it means for a firefighter’s day-to-day ways of working. A key component of the trial is to understand these lessons and consider the impact it will have on all aspects of their daily activities.

Through their use of the device, learning is collated about everything from the way it is used to the way it is worn, which is then fed back to advise the wider programme leading the development of ESN.

Operational use

Dave Wrigley said, “Our users have fed back that they like the sound quality of it and the touch and feel of the device. There are things we are finding out, which are all part of the learning. For example, now we’ve recently provided them some clips to attach the device onto firefighter uniform or PPE and so we’ve reduced the number of accidental activations we are having.”

As one of the programme’s five assurance partners, WYFRS is helping lead the way in exploring how ESN is used by a fire and rescue service in an operational environment. All lessons learned play a key role to the wider planning for mass transition.

Dave said, “We are looking at whether our ways of working will work in the new world of ESN. Are there other things we can exploit from it that we do not exploit with the current Airwave devices? Is there any blue sky thinking we would like to be able to investigate on ESN?

“We get a lot of interest in our work from other organisations. Being involved in this way gives us an early heads-up as to ESN functionality. It gives us an early opportunity to assess potential future ways of working and we can trial them in this reasonably small group of officers to see the best way to do things in the future.”

On-boarding experience

Duncan Swan, ESN deployment: Technical On-boarding and Enrolment lead for the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP), said West Yorkshire’s involvement has delivered important learning in the technical aspects of working with ESN. He said, “All the way through, we have learned about user elements that will help us make the on-boarding experience better, to make it slicker. WYFRS fed back all the way through that process. They now have the ESN devices in their hands and that means we have the opportunity to learn more. We have a group of firefighters using them 24/7, whenever they get a call to mobilise, the Watch Managers will be using the ESN devices. From this we find out about battery life, about the user interface and the overall user experience.

“We still have more to learn about, such as device staging, about mobile device management – and there are hints and tips and aspects to which we need to give further thought and that’s thanks to WYFRS.”