FIRE service staff have spoken of their “disgust” after being excluded from a meeting to decide the next steps for how 999 calls are handled in East Sussex.

East Sussex Fire Authority has opted to move control centre operations out of the county as part of a three-way partnership with Surrey and West Sussex fire services.

The decision was made following more than two hours of debate behind closed doors. 

The move into closed session was criticised by East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS) staff and their union representative, who said the decision was “disgusting”.

Sue Ivatt, a control room staff member who has been with the fire service for more than 27 years, said: “It’s absolutely disgusting. 

“We’ve moved from Lewes to Eastbourne, Eastbourne to Haywards Heath and now for this to happen because West Sussex has gone to Surrey. 

“We all feel very passionate about our jobs and I know from what has already happened that if we move to Surrey then I will not go because I couldn’t carry out my job how it should be carried out.”

Similar concerns were raised by Steve Oakman, secretary of the East Sussex Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

He said: “This will lead to a detriment to fire control which will put lives at risk. That has been apparent already from what is going on in Surrey. 

“It will also lead to a loss of the local knowledge of our control staff and, of course, job losses as well.” 

Mr Oakman also revealed the Surrey branch of the FBU had presented Surrey Fire and Rescue Service with a “safety critical notice” around its control room operations.

While only an advisory document, the notice raises the union’s serious concerns around the safety of the control room set up in Surrey.

The decision to debate the matter in closed session followed on from a close-run vote as opinions on how to move forward were split.

Legal advisers, however, said holding even part of the debate in public would mean an exempt report,  which it was said contained commercially sensitive information, would have to be made public. 

Officers confirmed the decision was made as recommended, with ESFRS to share its control centre operations as part of a three-way partnership with both Surrey and West Sussex fire services. 

It is thought the partnership proposal cost the fire authority more than £11 million over the next seven years.

However, it would lead to “immediate operational benefits” as a result of the sharing of resources between fire services, a report said.

Twenty eight full-time equivalent roles, based at the fire service’s current control centre at Haywards Heath Fire Station, are expected to be affected by the decision, a fire service spokesman said.

Officers had warned delaying the decision ran the risk of a breakdown in industrial relations and staffing levels due to further uncertainty.

Officers had also said further delay would pose risks in terms of the stability of the existing fire mobilising system.