The Lancashire Fire Service will be the first to complete the rollout of the Airwave Tetra-based digital radio system at the end of January.
Mobile phone operator O2's Airwave service, which is already being rolled out across the country's police forces, has been the subject of opposition from some fire services on the grounds of cost and safety. This has included reports that Tetra handsets spark when operated.
But Dave Thompson, radio replacement project manager at Lancashire Fire Service, dismissed claims that sparking radio handsets would be dangerous at the scene of a fire.
"The sparking handsets [issue] is a nonsense," he told vnunet.com. "The radios aren't designed to operate in flammable atmospheres."
Instead fire services will use a limited number of specialist higher-priced handsets for use inside potentially flammable situations, he explained.
The £500,000 Airwave project, which will be rolled out to about 170 users in Lancashire, has been hit by a £48,000 overspend while it runs the old analogue system in parallel during the switchover.
"During our migration process we are running two radio systems," said Thompson. "We need one dedicated operator for the old analogue system."
The government is currently inviting bidders to provide a digital radio network for the fire service, but the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has claimed that the process is biased against safer and less expensive alternatives to Airwave, such as Tetrapol.
"What is worrying is that there is only one company that seems to fit the bill. The standards the government has put out can only be met by one company at present," said the FBU's John Whittaker.
"The other worry is the safety implication and this needs to be looked at. At the moment we have intrinsically safe handsets [for the analogue network]."
Earlier this year in a leaked letter, the Police Information Technology Organisation pleaded with the government to intervene against the adoption of different radio systems to Airwave, citing inaccurate interoperability issues.
But a spokeswoman for O2 Airwave dismissed claims that the technology is being forced on fire services, and maintained that it is an open competition being handled by the government.
"We look forward to this as a competitive bid process and believe that we can provide the fire service with the service they need," she said.
Earlier this month MPs criticised the government's handling of the rollout of the Airwave Tetra digital radio network to the UK's emergency services, claiming that £300m had been wasted.
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