New emergency radios for Bravest

By MICHAEL SAUL
DAILY NEWS CITY HALL BUREAU

The Fire Department has begun redistributing 3,500 reconfigured radios to firefighters, nearly two years after they were pulled from service when a firefighter's Mayday distress calls were not heard.

Since March 2001, firefighters have been relying on older-model radios, many in service for more than 10 years. These older models were used during the World Trade Center terrorist attacks.

"We have tested these radios extensively, and they're getting very good reviews," Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta told the Daily News yesterday.

"Everyone recognizes there is no perfect radio, there is no perfect system. But we can do better than we did in the past, and I'm optimistic that we have now a radio that really suits our purposes."

Since September, Staten Island firefighters have used the new radios in more than 50 serious blazes. More than 5,000 firefighters have come in contact with the radios during the testing phase.

"Hopefully, they will work," said Rudy Sanfilippo, a Manhattan trustee with the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

"They were tested in Staten Island, but we don't know how well they work downtown or in midtown Manhattan or in the other boroughs," said Sanfilippo. "We may ... find out they're worse."

In March 2001, then-Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen pulled the radios from service after a firefighter got lost in a Queens blaze - seven of his Mayday calls went unheard.

The incident sparked an angry outcry from fire union leaders, who called the field testing inadequate and unprecedented. At a tense City Council hearing in April 2001, Von Essen accepted responsibility for the problem-plagued radios.

In addition to the reconfigured radios, fire chiefs will be given high-power portable radios for use in high-rise fires. These radios, which have passed tests at the Empire State Building, are designed to enable communication from upper floors to a command post on the ground.

Originally published on February 2, 2003


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