Safety |Audio |Terrorism| WTC/9-11|Media | Deaths  |Forums/chat  | Arson | Hot Rigs |Hot Shots | EMS| HAZMAT| Fire Photography
February 22, 2004

Commentary by Chief Billy Goldfeder
WithTheCommand.Com 9/18/02
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 it fade? 

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 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 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 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 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:

(Can't Respond In Simplistic Immediate Seriousness)
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) now...everyone AND THEIR BROTHER (I love that term) jump on the "this is horrible...we'll fix it for OUR firefighters" bandwagon.

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 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'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'll like your new gear"

"Hiya fellows...Here are your NEW 800 Mhz digital radios.............................."
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" 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 reasons.

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.

FDNY radios not good to go 

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."