The public has given the thumbs down to a planned merger of emergency control rooms in Sussex.

Firefighters took to the streets to test public reaction and an overwhelming percentage of the 500 people questioned rejected the scheme.

The survey, in Hastings, Eastbourne, Brighton, Wadhurst and Uckfield, was carried out in response to a Home Office report which calls for a reduction of control rooms in England and Wales from 49 to 21.

Fire control rooms in East and West Sussex could merge, possibly with Surrey. Consideration is also being given to merging police and ambulance control rooms.

In response, 85 per cent of people said it was important to have a control room in the brigade's area, 72 per cent supported having the local control centre run by local brigade personnel, and 74 per cent rejected the idea of a neighbouring brigade providing 999 control, even if it was more cost effective.

The East Sussex Fire Authority will consider the findings at its meeting at Eastbourne fire station today.

The authority has yet to formalise its response to the Home Office proposal, but the Fire Brigades Union has already voiced strong opposition, warning jobs and lives could be at risk.

Ian Smith, union spokesman, said fire control personnel were highly-trained, skilled operators and were the first people to deal with an incident.

He said: "Without their expertise, many lives would be lost."

Mr Smith said fire, police and ambulance control rooms had their own workers with specialist knowledge specific to each emergency service.

He said: "Merging them would not only diminish the skills base of all operators but, more importantly, would diminish the standard of service we provide to the communities we serve."

Alan McCormack, East Sussex fire chief, said despite similar fears, there was no drop in performance when smaller control rooms, including those in Brighton, Hastings and Eastbourne, merged in 1974.