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FDNY Union: Investigate Radio Failure

Copyright 2002 Newsday, Inc.
Newsday (New York, NY)...07/20/2002

By William Murphy. STAFF WRITER

A grand jury should investigate the "abject failure" of the radio system used by city firefighters on Sept. 11, a fire union leader said Friday.

The radios in use that day should have been replaced two years ago after a shipment of new radios arrived, but the new radios never worked properly, according to Capt. Peter Gorman, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.

"It has been almost two years since these radios have been delivered to the FDNY," Gorman said. "It is long overdue that the department must make a decision to get these radios properly tested and evaluated or admit they don't work and scrap the program."

The city and the Fire Department entered into a contract two years ago with Motorola to replace its entire 20-year-old system of handheld radios - called handie-talkies by firefighters.

The new radios were put into service in March 2001, but were yanked a few weeks later after complaints from firefighters, and one documented instance where firefighters near a comrade could not hear his radio calls for help after his air supply ran out during a Richmond Hill fire. He was eventually rescued.

The Fire Department put its old radios, also made by Motorola, back into service in March 2001, as it attempted to fix the new radios.

"Firefighters' lives are in jeopardy every day until the department can get new handie-talkies that work," Gorman said in a message sent this week to the union's 2,500 members.

The Manhattan district attorney's office said it had received Gorman's letter and declined further comment.

The Fire Department did not respond directly to Gorman's call for a grand jury investigation. But spokesman Frank Gribbon said: "This department is moving forward and we are presently testing the new radios - and have been for some time."

Motorola spokeswoman Pat Sturmon said: "Motorola was the only company that could meet the rigid requirements of the Fire Department of New York for their radios. Motorola has technicians working with the FDNY 24-7 to get the radios into service as soon as possible."