The Fire Department is making a second try at introducing new digital radios, to replace a communications system said to have failed during the World Trade Center attack.
Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta says the department has been working with the manufacturer, Motorola, to improve the radio system, and it will be field tested by firefighters on Staten Island later this month.
The handheld two-way radios have stronger signals than the lower-frequency analog ones the department has been using for over 15 years, which have often been ineffective in high-rise fires. The old radios have been cited as a primary cause of the communication problems on September 11 that prevented many firefighters who died from hearing calls to evacuate to the twin towers.
The digital radios were actually put into service in March 2001, but they were quickly pulled after several problems were reported, including a firefighter’s call for help at the scene of a blaze that went unheard. The radios had not been field tested.
This time around, the Fire Department is making sure they work properly.
"By the 26th we anticipate being in Staten Island and doing a borough-wide test that will take about eight weeks," Scoppetta said Monday, following a news conference by several fire unions demanding the immediate issue of the new radios. "We want to satisfy ourselves that while we move quickly, we move prudently. We are not putting these radios out in the field if they don’t work much, much better than the existing radios."
If the test on Staten Island is successful, the radios will be brought back into service citywide.
The Uniformed Fire Officers Association and representatives from other firefighters’ unions said Monday that they do not want to wait for a field test, saying the old radios place their members in danger. "We cannot wait that long," U.F.O.A. President Peter Gorman said in response to reports that a forthcoming evaluation of the FDNY’s September 11 response recommends the new radios go into service within four months if they pass tests.
That review, by the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, is said to find faulty training, poor coordination and an almost complete lack of cooperation between the NYPD and the FDNY on September 11.
Unlike the old ones, the new radios will be equipped to communicate with the Police Department and other emergency agencies. The firefighters who died in the second tower were not able to hear a warning of immediate collapse from NYPD helicopters monitoring the situation overhead.