Firefighters, cops and the Office of Emergency Management will finally be on the same channel, thanks to a new radio that was shown off yesterday by city Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta.
The move came on a day of mixed news for the city’s emergency services, with the feds saying New York ranks just 14th among 75 U.S. areas in emergency communications but the FDNY touting better response times last year.
The Department of Homeland Security noted the city has enhanced the ability of the FDNY and the NYPD to communicate at the scene of a major incident, one of the recommendations of the McKinsey Report in the wake of the terror attacks at the World Trade Center. Firefighters’ radios had failed in the twin towers.
“It’s very hard to understand how this assessment came out the way it did,” Scoppetta said, but added that city agencies had focused on getting better radios.
“Across the board, the communication systems in New York over the last five years and in the Fire Department have been tremendously improved,” he said.
The Fire Department’s hand-held radios can now be configured to operate on the same channels as those used by the NYPD, said FDNY Chief of Department Salvatore Cassano. Yesterday, Scoppetta also unveiled the Vertex radio, which is a dedicated frequency for the FDNY, police and OEM.
“All of the agencies can be on the same frequency all the time,” Scoppetta said. “We have complete interoperability with the other city agencies at the time of a crisis.”
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly agreed, saying radio communication “has never been better.”
The FDNY also revealed its year-end statistics yesterday and trumpeted a decrease in response times.
There were 27,817 blazes in buildings last year and the average response time was 4 minutes, 29 seconds. In 2005, it took an average of 4:36 to reach the 28,455 structural fires, the FDNY said.
“After 9/11, we had a lot of new drivers with less experience, so response times went up,” Cassano said. “Now, those drivers have more experience. The times have dropped.”
There were 84 civilian fatalities caused by fires last year, the third-lowest total since records were first kept in 1916. And while the numbers of nonstructural blazes – such as car and brush fires – also dropped, there was an increase in the number of medical emergencies that required firefighters’ response. The number of medical emergencies jumped from 202,526 to 209,397, but firefighters got to them an average of 21 seconds quicker than the 4:46 it took in 2005.
“The bottom line: The quicker we get to an emergency, the better service we can provide,” Cassano said.
BY JONATHAN LEMIRE
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Thursday, January 4th, 2007