FDNY still gets static on radios


The walkie-talkies now used by firefighters are far better than the radios that failed during the World Trade Center attack, but potential holes still exist.

Two years after the collapse of the twin towers, most high-rises in the city still don't have repeaters - amplifiers that boost Fire Department radio signals.

FDNY Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta sought federal funds last year to install repeaters in 600 city buildings that stand 20 stories or higher. But the $60 million to $100 million needed to buy and set up the equipment has yet to come through, officials said.

FDNY and city officials have turned their focus to drafting a law that would force landlords to install repeaters in tall buildings.

"There is a task force working on that," Scoppetta said. "We'd like to see it be mandatory."

In right direction

Scoppetta and fire union officials said the legislative process could take years, but agreed significant steps have been taken to improve radio communications.

"We've come up with a very good system that is providing us with redundancy," said Deputy Commissioner Frank Gribbon. "We know it works. It's effective and there is more to come."

Firefighters now carry reconfigured radios, which are more powerful, have more channels and include a Mayday button - and a shared NYPD frequency.

The new radios replaced models used at the Trade Center, which along with the towers' repeaters, were blamed for failing to relay evacuation orders.

In addition to the improved 2-watt handheld radios, fire chiefs have been equipped with typewriter-sized 45-watt radios.

The devices can be placed at command posts to boost signals at high-rise blazes, subway fires and major emergencies. They also allow for command posts to set up farther from danger.

Noting that communication glitches were seen in the August blackout, Philip McArdle, health and safety officer of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said: "They [FDNY officials] are doing good, but they could do better."

Originally published on September 14, 2003