FDNY to Boost Emergency Readiness
Special training, tools for 600

By William Murphy

July 9, 2003

In one of the first major tactical shifts after the World Trade Center attack, the Fire Department plans special training for more than 600 firefighters in 21 ladder companies around the city.

The 21 units would be stocked with dozens of tools, from duct tape to high-tech chemical protective suits and gas detection monitors.

The department has admitted that its current deployment of five rescue companies - one for each borough - and one hazardous materials company is not enough after the trade center disaster.

"We cannot continue to place all our reliance in a few select units to provide specialized equipment, techniques and trained personnel," said a department memo being circulated among department and fire union officials.

The training, which 10 companies have almost finished, consists of 40 hours of instruction in hazardous materials and 40 hours on enhanced rescue training, said Frank Gribbon, a department spokesman.

The units would also be deployed for terrorism and other large-scale emergencies, such as blackouts, building collapses or major storms.

In the event of multiple attacks, the five rescue units, haz-mat unit and other units in the Special Operations Command, known as SOC in the department, could be quickly tied up.

"The SOC support ladder companies will provide ... additional units to begin critical tasks such as air monitoring needed to ensure the safety of our members and the public," the memo said.

The leaders of the two main firefighter unions expressed skepticism yesterday that the department was fully committed to the initial training and refresher training that would be needed to keep the ladder units at peak readiness.

"We're pretty much in line with the department. Our problem with this is the usual with the department: Are you going to commit to this?" said Capt. Peter Gorman, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.

Philip McArdle, health and safety liaison for the Uniformed Firefighters Association, expressed similar concerns.

"They're going to train these units once and never re-train," McArdle said.

The department said it was committed to the training, most of which would be paid for with a federal grant.