State's Top Fire Chief Urges NY Crisis Command
By Associated Press
November 15, 2002
The state's top fire official has joined other
experts in calling for New York City to establish a formal command
system for emergencies such as the World Trade Center attack.
Some experts contend that tighter coordination
between the fire and police departments could have saved lives on
Sept. 11. But Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and, to a lesser
extent, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, have resisted a new
James Burns, the state fire administrator, has now
called on the departments to follow a nationally accepted blueprint
known as the Incident Command System. The system lays out in broad
terms how to assign vital roles such as logistics and planning to
specific units and personnel in large-scale emergencies.
It also establishes a unified chain of command with
one official or agency in charge, depending on the situation at
Kelly said at a City Council hearing last month that
placing one department's personnel under another's commander would
be misguided. He said Friday that, while he did not entirely rule
out a formal structure, common sense and personal interaction were
the most important guides to joint emergency responses.
Fire department spokesman David Billig said Kelly
and Scoppetta "have had continuing conversations concerning the use
of the incident command system and will continue to do so in the
New York's fire and police department have been
traditional rivals, although Kelly and Scoppetta have pledged to
work more closely together in the face of potential terrorist
"There's no secret about the history between our
fire and police departments," said City Councilwoman Yvette Clarke,
head of the Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee. "It's
really important that new protocols are put in place so that we
don't have any confusion in the field."
Burns, who oversees firefighter training and fire
safety for the state, wrote in a Nov. 6 letter to Scoppetta and
Kelly that rejection of a formal system was "cause for concern in
several respects" and should be revisited.
"It is very important that the state, city and
federal agencies be operating with the same set of guidelines and
command protocol," Burns wrote in the letter, first reported in
Newsday. "It isn't best to have New York City on one page and the
rest of the world on another."
Poor coordination between fire and police officials
kept firefighters from getting vital information about the
structural integrity of the weakening trade center towers,
city-commissioned reports have found.
In one example, police learned that a man in the
south tower had told a 911 operator at 9:37 a.m. that some floors
beneath him were collapsing, but did not relay the message to
firefighters before the tower collapsed 22 minutes later,
management consultant McKinsey & Co. determined.
The fire department lost 343 members on Sept. 11,
while the police department lost 23.
The fire department has in recent months moved to
improve its use of incident command principles, assigning logistics
and planning duties to specific chiefs, for example.
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