The Uniformed Firefighters Association — representing the city's 8,100
rank-and-file firefighters and fire marshals — demanded that Mayor
Giuliani and the City Council investigate who authorized the digital
radios as well as the claim they had been field-tested in Boston and
"I think someone screwed up and someone has to be held
accountable," union President Kevin Gallagher said at a hastily
called news conference.
Steve MacDonald, a spokesman for the Boston Fire Department, told the
Daily News yesterday, "We don't use digital, and we have never used
The Chicago Fire Department declined to comment to The News. But
union officials and WNBC-TV said Chicago representatives told them they
did not use digital radios, either.
A senior adviser to Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen predicted
heads would roll in the wake of the radio fiasco.
"Von Essen is incensed over the amount of misinformation that
was given to him by certain of his staff, and there are going to be
personnel changes," the adviser said.
So far, the city has shelled out $7 million for 2,700 new two-way
The city switched to the new radios March 13. But within days,
firefighters were reporting serious communication problems. On several
occasions, calls that couldn't be picked up between firefighters working
at the same fire somehow got transmitted to radios in other boroughs,
the union said.
"It just caused mass confusion," said Rudy San Filippo, the
union's Manhattan trustee.
On Monday, a Queens firefighter whose oxygen supply ran out in a
smoke-filled basement made seven Mayday calls on his new digital radio
that union officials said couldn't be heard by his colleagues on the
The next day, Von Essen ordered the new radios taken out of service
and the old analog radios put back in.
Gallagher chastised the Fire Department brass for what he said were
attempts to downplay the Queens incident.
"How dare the department question the use of a Mayday?" he
Von Essen's adviser said yesterday that the firefighter would not
have had a radio at all before the digital switchover and that he might
not have been used to having one.
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