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FDNYradio2 Dispatch Radios Endanger FDNY (WCBS) (NEW YORK) 2001/03/21 18:36:00 US/Eastern
After spending over $4.5 million on new high-tech radios for New York's Bravest, the Fire Department of New York is recalling them after just one week because of a raft of technical problems that endangered the lives of firefighters, Marcia Kramer reports.

"They should have been tested in the field," says Peter Gorman, the president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. "And we're just lucky a firefighter didn't die because of this mistake."

The new digital radios cost of $3,500 each. They were supposed to be the latest in technology but when the department ordered each of its firefighters to use them last week, for communicating while they are in the midst of fighting fires, massive technical glitches occurred.

"Firefighters in Manhattan were hearing fires going on in Queens," Gorman explains. "We all operated on the same frequency. It's difficult to maintain ground communications where three or four fires are communicated on the same frequency."

One memo obtained by CBS 2 shows that Battalion 53 in Queens reported that the glitches were so bad in fighting a fire in the Amtrak tunnel between Queens and Manhattan, they had to switch to a secondary channel.

And in an other case, a firefighter from Engine 305 battling a blaze in Richmond Hill Saturday could have lost his life.

Fire companies have been reporting a number of problems with the radios including the fact that there are transmission delays and sometimes do not work in close proximity. What happened Saturday night was that a fireman was fighting a basement fire. He became disorientated and called in a mayday, fireman in trouble. The problem is nobody in his company heard him.

"The only time a fireman gives a mayday is when he is in imminent danger," Gorman explains. "Either he is lost, running out of oxygen or can't find way out. He gave a mayday. Luckily, he was found and his injuries weren't serious but it could have been a fatality."

Gorman says a glitch in the radio system actually saved the fireman's life. While his transmission couldn't be heard by members of his own company at the scene, it was heard by another company that was a few blocks away. That company reported the mayday to the ground crew.

"That's not acceptable," Gorman says. "It threatens the lives of the firefighters and the officers."

The fire department has decided to recall the radios.

Tuesday, it ordered all its fire trucks and ladder companies to recharge their old radios.

Late Wednesday, fire officials held a press conference to announce the mistake.

Fire commissioner Thomas Von Essen says that he intends to fix the problem and try to get the radios back in use because they are, he says, the latest technology.

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bullet$3,500 Apiece And Faulty
bulletUnion Claims They Were Not Field Tested
bulletCrossovers With Other Companies, Battalions

bulletUniformed Fire Officers Association