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FDNY Radios Not Suitable
NEWSDAY - Thursday, April 14, 2005
BY WILLIAM MURPHY
The portable radios now in use by city firefighters are better designed for police work and not suited for firefighting, according to a federal report.
Firefighter Thomas Brick was apparently trying to activate the emergency button on his Motorola XTS3500 radio when he died in 2003, the report said.
But the button is hard to get to, located on the body of the radio inside the firefighter's protective gear, according to the report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
The Fire Department said last May that it planned to move the button to the hand microphone on the outside of the protective gear, but it did not then link making the change to Brick's death.
The placement of the button on the top of the radio is ideal for police, who wear it on an exterior belt. They can simply place their hands on their hips and activate the silent alarm without tipping off the person they are facing.
"Emergency alert buttons on radios are useful features that are designed primarily for law enforcement, but their design does not work well with the demands of fire fighting, e.g., wearing heavy gloves in low visibility," the federal report said.
Motorola spokeswoman Pat Sturmond said yesterday the radios were designed with police in mind but had been modified for firefighting to emit a loud alarm when activated. She said New York was the first major city to use the XTS3500 model for firefighters.
City Comptroller Allen Hevesi, now the state comptroller, issued a report in the summer of 2001 criticizing the radios' performance and the method of purchase, a $14-million deal piggybacked onto a contract for replacement radios.
The radios had been pulled from the field earlier in the year after being used for only a few weeks when a firefighter's mayday calls for help were not heard by nearby firefighters. They were returned to service in February 2002, following the Sept. 11 attack, after a new fire commissioner, Nicholas Scoppetta, ordered them reprogrammed.
There was no indication in either the federal report or FDNY reports that Brick had tried to use his hand microphone. Fire Department spokesman Frank Gribbon said the radio was tested afterward and found to be in working order.
Gribbon said it was unclear why Brick would try to find the emergency button inside his heavy gear instead of keying the microphone near his chin and verbally issuing a mayday.
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