Work on a new multi-million pound control centre at the heart of a fire services shake-up in the north east of England has begun.
The centre at the Belmont Business Park near Durham city, will replace existing control rooms in Cleveland, Durham, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear.
It is due to open in 2008 and will handle emergencies across the region.
The Fire Brigades Union fears the move will lose the vital local knowledge of operators handling 999 calls.
The centre will be one of nine making up a new national network, replacing the existing 46 local control rooms.
The government said the changes were needed to deal with major regional or national incidents.
The centre will be one of the first to use new radio technology. Currently each brigade has its own radio system which only allows control centres to communicate with fire engines in their own county.
The new system will mean the control room will communicate with any fire crew, no matter where they are in the country.
John Burke, director of support services for Cleveland Fire and Rescue, said the changes would bring improvements to the service.
He said: "In reality, crews at local fire stations have the local knowledge and it will be those same crews who respond to incidents."