CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW....?
Commentary by Chief Billy Goldfeder
Here is an updated article (below) on
the current state of affairs regarding FDNY's radio system. It's pretty
clear the system hasn't work and won't work for a long time.
If you have read TSL for any period of
time, you know our deep concerns with digital radio technology. As we have
said before, no one spends more money than cellular telephone companies...and
how well does YOUR digital cellular telephone work? (Can ya hear me now???).....Does
Do you "lose" calls" Does it sound garbled
and goofy when someone talks to you? The answer is probably yes. If the
cellular companies systems are fair at best...is it fair to expect that
digital fire radio systems will work any better? You can add all the towers
and sites you want-today's digital is still digital.
Think of it from a PROFIT standpoint. Cellular
companies exist for only one reason. As hard as the mfgs try, digital radios
are not firefighting radios...at least not now. There are too many inherit
problems that should have been tested out on public works employees, bus
drivers and other non-critical radio users...but some "silly" reason....FD's
ended up on these systems as well. I was recently told my a rep that "digital
radio systems are still new...they are a work in progress"....that's fine-work
the progress off the fireground.
There are really two issues that should
wake people up....
Issue 1-The "new" radio system. That's
the digital radios (that can be switched to analog...but) that the mfg
offers as their "premier" system of "today."
We'll keep saying this-current DIGITAL
technology is dangerous when it comes to fire communications....until we
are proven wrong. Somewhere between the engineers, the sales folks, the
profit liners and those in the purchasing department, ya end up w/radios
that don't work under FIREFIGHTING conditions! Now, I am not trying to
get dramatic-we spend most of our time in NON-FIREFIGHTING conditions...but
if the radios don't work when you use them to radio the EMS unit to tell
them that your patient will walk to the front door to meet them...then
it's pretty clear that it won't work under the DRAMATIC conditions when
you and your crew have one chance to clearly state that you have a MAYDAY.
Can ya hear me now?
Now-some will say, you don't need to transmit
when you are in trouble...you can just hit the "emergency button".....thats
bs. You have to first FIND the radio (under your bunker gear), then find
the emergency button...then you have to take off your glove to push it.
And then what--ok, we now a radio user (a/k/a FF) is in trouble. And that's
it. The emergency button is a a "kinda nice" feature for whatever...but
you need to SAY who you are and where you are...if the opportunity exists....in
the microphone that's where you can reach it. Now, they are building in
PASS devices to the radios...again, that's kind of an "automatic" emergency
button...not a bad idea...but until FF's can talk clearly on their radios,
under "life threatening conditions"...all the rest of this isn't important.
Issue 2-The issue in FDNY is not much
different from most fire departments.
Let's see if this formula matches ANYTHING
REMOTELY CLOSE to what you may have experienced in the past:
The CRISIS SYSTEM
(Can't Respond In Simplistic Immediate
1. A serious problem occurs-and often
after there were warnings that "it" might occur. Previous concerns ignored
due to low magnitude or importance of the issue to those in-charge....problem
usually pointed out by an "hourly" employee, wearing (as Jeff Foxworthy
says) a "blue shirt w/their name on it."
2. BUT NOW the problem is SERIOUS! (That
means it has PERSONALLY effected someone in authority, their family, their
income or their career) ...so now...everyone AND THEIR BROTHER (I love
that term) jump on the "this is horrible...we'll fix it for OUR firefighters"
3. Committees, Taskforces and related groups
are quickly formed....elected officials provide press releases assuring
the fix. Numerous photo op's are convened.
4. Everyone has the optimistic feeling
that they WILL fix the problem....sort of.
5. Time goes on...the issue is no longer
important due to "other priorities"...expenses, budgets etc. Politicians
have "new" CRISIS issues, bosses & managers are glad "thats over with"
and go back in hiding...usually near Puxatawney, PA.
6. Life goes on...the problem is forgotten
about...until the next time.
7. See step #2. Can ya hear me now?
Sound familiar? It happens almost EVERYWHERE.
Time marches on and the important issues are "put on the back burner".....until
the next time.
So what's the answer.
Here are some thoughts.....
At the risk of sounding like I am repeating
myself, the system MUST be designed BY THOSE WHO USE IT! The following
are some thoughts from a piece we wrote almost two years ago entitled "Preventing
Dead Firefighters...for those of you who may not have read it....here are
a few paragraphs:
Honestly, we are talking about "preventing"
dead firefighters.....and that ties into personal ACCOUNTABILITY!
When it comes to new radio systems it is
ESSENTIAL that the Unions, the Chiefs (who should "spec" the system...NOT
radio techs!) and others hold the "radio" and "budget" people accountable
by making sure the specified system is tested...making sure that it fully
works...months and months prior to the system being accepted. Consider
it like an airpack or bunker gear......
"Hiya fellows....Here are your new AIRPAKS...they
are light weight, comfortable and usually deliver air in the proper fashion...of
course, it can't always work ALL of the time but other than a few times
where it may fail...you'll love your new airpacks...and by the way-the
low air alarms work very well except on the occasion of low air where it
should normally work 90-95% of the time"
"Hiya fellows-Here is your new TURNOUT
gear...its comfortable, lightweight, cost effective (a/k/a low bid) and
will generally protect you....of course, there will be times when you encounter
some higher temperatures while fighting a fire and the interior barrier/pvc
foam liner may start to bake, crumble and be destroyed after one exposure...of
course, since you really don't have a lot of fires, the exposure problem
won't occur all the time...but for the most part...you'll like your new
"Hiya fellows...Here are your NEW 800 Mhz
Ya get the picture? Can ya hear me now?
Don't let the "tail wag the dog"...firefighters are the ones in danger-not
radio techs! There was a GREAT song a few years ago that had the words
"We're Not Gonna Take It Anymore......" and that seems to be the appropriate
response to those who are trying to jam us with "stuff that don't work."
Whats the solution for any FD? Make sure
the specs are written with FIREFIGHTER SAFETY as the top, no excuses priority
and no "back burner priorities"....by holding those responsible, accountable
and making sure, without any doubt that "it" works in the toughest of conditions
and by not accepting something that could hurt one of our own.
We can't allow the "CRISIS" SYSTEM of management,
as described below determine firefighters fate. It takes loud, clear and
bold leadership to make sure these situations don't occur again. I have
no doubt that (in the FDNY radio problem arena) the Commissioner, Chiefs
and Union leaders want this problem fixed...and they are focused for obvious
In any FD, there area few basic material
things that must be used to insure firefighters safety...the best airpaks,
the best turnout/bunker gear, the best apparatus and the best radios. FDNY
has 3 out of 4. They are entitled to 4 out of 4. Aren't we all? This doesn't
seem to be all that tough to figure out.
"Can ya hear me now???? Good.
THE SECRET LIST 9-18-02
radios not good to go
By ALICE McQUILLAN
DAILY NEWS POLICE BUREAU September
Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta told
the City Council yesterday that the department is still trying to work
out the bugs in its new radios - a concession that angered relatives of
Sept. 11 victims."My son did not know that the Fire Department had substandard
equipment, that it had radios that did not work and it did not have a plan
to handle emergencies," said Sally Regenhard, chairwoman of the Skyscraper
Safety Campaign. Her 28-year-old son, Christian, was among the 343 firefighters
who died that morning.On Sept. 11, they were carrying the same hand-held
radios that had failed in the 1993 WTC bombing. Newer radios had been shelved
in March 2001 because of transmission problems.Scoppetta said if the newer
radios pass the FDNY's tests, which will be finished by early November,
they'll be issued to firefighters.If they fail, it will take two more years
to order replacements, he said.
Mulling joint plan
Scoppetta added that he didn't know if
an effort to join the Police Department's more advanced communications
system is technologically feasible. He cautioned that for radios to work
in high-rises, they need repeaters - amplifiers that boost signals. Most
skyscrapers lack them or don't have systems compatible with the FDNY's.
The Police Department has a network of repeaters, but Scoppetta said merging
into it is more complicated than "just plugging into their system. Monica
Gabrielle, whose husband Rich died on Sept. 11, said that the 1993 WTC
bombing should have led fire and city officials to plan ahead."Everything
that was wrong in '93 was wrong in 2001," she said. "There were no lessons
learned; there were no changes implemented."