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International Control Room Week: 'Every emergency starts with us' Jason's story

Every year, thousands of people across Essex find themselves involved in or witnessing an emergency.

Instinctively, they all dial 999.

But who are those reassuring, ever-present voices on the other end of the line? Well, they're Essex County Fire and Rescue Service's Control Operators. Based in the Control Room at the Service Headquarters in Kelvedon, they're there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

They're people like Jason Edwards. Jason, who manages Red Watch, has been part of the Service's Control for 14 years.

"Every incident starts with us," Jason begins. "That's why what we do is so important - if we can get our bit right at the beginning, then there's a much higher chance of a successful outcome."

One of four watches that follow the same rota as the Service's wholetime firefighters, Jason and his team work closely with those on the frontline.

"Once we've taken the call, operational crews might then be sent to respond to the incident. Our role is to make sure that they have all of the information they need before they arrive, so they can start to prepare for what they're about to deal with.

"That might mean anything from a bin fire in Southend to an oil refinery or a full emergency at an airport " we really are working with the unknown."

So just how do Control Operators get the information they need, in constant high-pressure situations?

"While we're taking the call we're always trying to build a picture of the position the caller's in. That might mean where they are in a house fire or even just what they can see, but every bit of information makes it easier for crews.

"When firefighters arrive, they then have a much better understanding of what they need to do and the risks they face. If they need to rescue that caller, they might then know to go to the back of the house or the window with a towel hanging out of it, for example."

And that can be incredibly challenging. As such a diverse county, Jason and his team manage calls from people of all ages and backgrounds - meaning no two calls are ever the same.

"Reassurance is a massive part of our role, but we try and avoid the expression 'it will be okay'. The reality is that, while we're on the phone, our crews aren't there yet ... so we don't know the full extent of the predicament they're in."

"We have to show empathy but still be forceful enough to get the information we need - that isn't always easy when the caller is emotional or panicking."

Even after the information has been passed to crews, Control Operators will remain in constant communication with firefighters from stations across Essex.

"You naturally get to know the officers and firefighters who are part of your watch and their ways of working - every station is different."

"You need trust to be successful. We're a really close-knit watch but the teamwork has to go beyond just the Control Room - because in a way we're part of every station and every watch."

So what next for Control? Well, even after 14 years, Jason is as passionate as ever...

"For me there's nothing more exhilarating than the fast-paced nature of what we do, when we're having to manage several different incidents at once and still making sure that everything is done efficiently.

"I want our Service to be the benchmark for the region. With the people and facilities we have - our Control Room is state-of-the-art - there's no reason why we shouldn't be looked at as the very best."

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