Fire Dept. Drill on Bioterror Is Set for Today

Published: October 15, 2003

The Fire Department will simulate its response to a bioterror attack today on Staten Island, conducting practice smallpox vaccine inoculations on every firefighter and emergency service worker in the borough.

In reality, the estimated 700 emergency workers participating will get their annual flu shots, but the exercise is meant to test how quickly members could be vaccinated in the event of an outbreak.

As part of the drill, which will be held on the grounds of Seaview Hospital, the department will call off-duty firefighters at home to report to work, in a procedure known as recall.

After its catastrophic losses on Sept. 11, 2001, the department was faulted for its sweeping recall of members to the World Trade Center site, which left other parts of the city vulnerable, according to an independent management consultant hired by the city. The department has since revamped its procedures to include smaller recalls that would not drain emergency workers from entire city neighborhoods.

"What we're going to try to do is test our ability to pass out vaccines to our members in a rapid fashion," said Dr. Kerry J. Kelly, the department's chief medical officer and one of the officials overseeing the daylong drill. She added that it was critical for the department to have a swift plan in place so firefighters and emergency medical workers could be inoculated and continue to perform their rescue duties.

Since Sept. 11 and the anthrax scares of two years ago, the department has held several drills to test its ability to respond to future terror attacks. Not all have gone smoothly, according to participants and observers, who cited, in particular, problems at a hazardous-materials drill on a Brooklyn pier last spring that was held jointly with the Police Department. But department officials say they intend to use frequent drills to identify problems in the response.

"This is a drill exercise and we've tried to include as many real-life elements as possible," Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said in an e-mail message. "We hope to take away important lessons and useful practices that will help us in future planning."