N. Y. City: Fire Commissioner Admits Fault Over Radios

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Fire Commissioner Admits Fault Over Radios Says They Were Not Properly Field Tested Problems Led To a Close Call for One Firefighter Critics Call for Von Essen's Resignation

(NEW YORK) (WCBS) Weeks after the New York Fire Department distributed flawed radios that put one firefighter in danger and cost the city $33 million, the fire commissioner admitted the radio was never properly field tested before it was issued to firefighters. CBS 2’s David Diaz has the story.

Commissioner Thomas Von Essen has been singed by the controversy, with unions representing the firefighters and their officers calling for his resignation.

Von Essen, however, came to city hall Tuesday prepared to disarm his critics by beginning his testimony with the stunning admission that the new digital radios had not been field tested in real fire situations.

“In an effort to get these new radios into the hands of the firefighters we moved too fast,” said Von Essen. “We tested the quality, durability, and reliability of the product, but didn't spend enough time testing them in the field or familiarizing the firefighters with their use.”

The commissioner suspended use of the Motorola radios March 19, two days after a firefighter who was in the basement of a burning building put out a "mayday" call. The signal that he was in trouble, however, was not heard by other firefighters at the scene.

Von Essen seemed to make light of the fireman's distress call. The reaction angered the firefighters and their union leaders who maintain department brass ignored earlier complaints about critical problems with the digital radios.

The commissioner's admission that the radios had not been properly tested did not mollify the union leaders.

Every day our people reported the radio failed on "mayday, extreme fire condition," calls,” said Capt. Peter Gorman, who cited reports made from simulated conditions over a five-week period before the radios were issued. “The department chose to ignore them and issue the radios in the field. And I think that's unconscionable.”

For now, the expensive high tech radios remain on the shelf, pending further testing and modification. No timetable has been set for when they might be re-issued to the ranks.


-- K (infosurf@yahoo.com), April 11, 2001

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