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Second Chance for Radios
FDNY reformats and begins testing

By William Murphy; STAFF WRITER

The Fire Department has reprogrammed and begun testing 4,000 portable radios taken out of service a year ago after a firefighter's call for help failed to reach colleagues at the scene.

The testing began on Monday with firefighters attending regular in-service training on Randalls Island. The radios also will be tested in high-rise buildings and subways, with field tests to follow.

Last year, the Fire Department was sharply criticized for having put the radios in service without first field-testing them. They had been purchased for $ 14 million from Motorola.

The firefighters-union representative for health and safety, Thomas Manley, said he has tried out the newly modified radios and finds them lacking.

"They have some bugs to work out," said Manley, sergeant-at-arms of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. "The quality is not great. There were transmissions lost and the clarity is a problem. But let's give them a chance to work it out."

The Fire Department purchased the 4,000 radios without consulting with the union, which is routine for purchase of new equipment. Management is consulting with the union now.

It could be months, the department said, before the radios are in use again fully because extensive testing is planned, including audiotaping all test transmissions for close review.

"It's a little too soon to make a judgment. We will make sure that when they go out to the field - if they go out - everybody will be comfortable with them," Fire Department spokesman Frank Gribbon said.

The radios were recalled last March, a year after being put into service, after a firefighter's calls for help after running out of air in a smoke-filled Richmond Hill home went unheard by his fellow firefighters inside and outside the address, and he suffered serious injury. The transmissions were heard by other firefighters who were several blocks away, however.

The new radios were being reformatted and were not in service on Sept. 11. Fire commanders at the World Trade Center complained that their orders to evacuate, issued over their older radios, could not be heard by firefighters on the upper floors.

Gribbon said the new radios, which are more powerful, were just about to be put back in service around the day of the trade center attack.

"We're going slow and thorough," he said. "All this was set to go six months ago, but we were set back by 9/11. We are now back on course."