Updated: 03-28-2004 11:06:18 AM

Most New York City Firehouses Lack Backup Power


SAM SMITH
Courtesy of New York Post

Seven months after the blackout of 2003, most New York City firehouses are still not equipped with backup power, The Post has learned.

The lack of backup power means firehouses would lose their main source of communication with the dispatcher - a dangerous situation should New York City go dark once again. It also compromises other rechargeable equipment like radios, flashlights and defibrillators, said the firemens union.

"How can we help people who are in the dark when we're in the dark?" said Uniformed Firefighters Association Sergeant-at-Arms Phil McArdle.

In its post-power-outage report in October, the city identified the lack of power at firehouses as a major problem, but to date only 75 firehouses and EMS stations out of 223 are equipped with generators, some of which, like the one at Engine 45 in The Bronx, didn't even work during the blackout.

Plus, according to the FDNY, batteries used for backup power to keep the computer-dispatching system running have been absent from some stations for years.

When the computer dispatching system - a house's primary communication system - goes down, dispatchers rely on radios and phones, which slows response time and can leave out important information, such as chemicals stored in a burning building.

The issue has been on the Fire Department's radar since long before last year's blackout.

Before 9/11, John Fabbricante, an FDNY electrician, began voicing concern that regular upkeep and replacement of the battery backups were not being conducted.

Fabbricante says he was retaliated against for his complaints, and has since filed a whistleblower suit against the city and several FDNY officials. The suit is pending.

"This is a tremendous risk to the city," said Fabbricante's lawyer, Lawrence Solotoff. "And because he talked about it he's been retaliated against."

The FDNY said the batteries have been removed because they are not needed or have expired.

David Rosensweig, president of the Fire Alarm Dispatcher's Benevolent Association, said this was a big problem during the blackout. "We didn't know which houses had systems that worked and which didn't," he said.

FDNY spokesman James Long said there are plenty of dispatch systems in firehouses to catch the slack if any part goes down.

"We were never totally compromised during the blackout," he said.

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