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FDNY Halts Radio Test

More woes for $14M Motorola system

By William Murphy

May 1, 2002

The Fire Department had to pull its new Motorola portable radios out of testing after several more problems developed in the $14 million system, officials said yesterday.

The testing began in late March, a year after the radios were taken out of active service when a firefighter's call for help failed to reach colleagues at the fire scene.

The department blamed the most recent pullback on unspecified "programming problems," but the firefighters' union said the "mayday" button did not work properly and there were lost and garbled conversations during testing at the Fire Academy on Randalls Island.

"It was a flaw in the radios and Motorola is fixing it," said Thomas Manley, health and safety coordinator for the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

He said that when a firefighter presses the mayday button, it is supposed to override all other conversations, but the testing found that a firefighter on a second radio could override the call of the endangered firefighters with a non-emergency transmission.

The department would only say that that there had been "a software problem ... and they were taken out of service."

A spokeswoman for Motorola said the radios were taken out of service to reconfigure them at the request of the department.

"This radio is a computer and it can be configured to do what the customer wants it to do," company spokeswoman Patricia Sturmon said. "There are going to be more adjustments as you go forward."

The new radios were not field-tested before being put in service in March 2000. They were quickly yanked from the field in March 2001 after a firefighter's call for help in the smoke-filled basement of a Richmond Hill home was heard by firefighters several blocks away, but not by the firefighters around him.

The new radios were not in service on Sept. 11, but fire officials said that orders to evacuate could not be heard by some firefighters on the old Motorola radio system that was in use that day.

There has been speculation that radio power boosters, called repeaters, built into the trade center were damaged when the planes slammed into the buildings.

Copyright 2002, Newsday, Inc.