No Lights, No Sirens But Fire Union Alarms Blare

Chief Leader - October 26, 2010

by ARI PAUL

Council Also Questions Program

Officially, the Fire Department's controversial modified response pilot program, in which second- and thirddue companies responding to nonemergency calls do not use lights and sirens and adhere to traffic laws, started Oct. 4 in Queens. In actuality, it's been going on for quite a while.

According to FDNY statistics, companies already respond, on average, a full minute slower to non-emergencies than to structural fires and medical emergencies. Trucks might still use lights and sirens, but companies aren't hauling at the same speed for a fallen tree as they would to a fire. "They wouldn't push hard, let's put it that way," Chief of Department Edward Kilduff told the City Council's Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee Oct. 21.

An Anti-Crash Course

The point of the program, which the Uniformed Firefighters Association vehemently opposes, is to reduce accidents on the road. Chief Kilduff said, "In addition to increasing public safety and firefighter safety, we expect modified response to improve the coverage our fire units provide to the communities they serve. With modified response, our companies will remain closer to their first-due response areas, making them more readily available for priority assignments such as fires or other life-threatening emergencies. Additional benefits include a reduction in our fuel use, lower apparatus maintenance costs and a decrease in the noise created by responding units."

Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee Chair Elizabeth Crowley still had her doubts, and as a Queens Councilwoman, took particular issue with the fact that the pilot is starting in her home borough, which has always lagged behind the others in FDNY response times. Mr. Kilduff explained that the 2007 report on the proposal came from the Queens Borough Commander, but she replied, "It's not fair to the residents of Queens."

UFA President Steve Cassidy connects the pilot to the Unified Call Taker 9-11 system, in which NYPD Dispatchers have been taking fire calls. The union has criticized the system, saying that it has resulted in erroneous information being sent to units, thereby hampering the responses. Mr. Cassidy said that a year ago Fire Alarm Dispatchers were allowed to listen in to this calls and are still doing so, which he interprets as an admission that the system is still flawed.

Road to Disaster?

The way he sees it, the pilot program can only compound the communication problems brought the UCT.

"If a gas leak turns out to be people down in a hallway you don't need oneand one, you need three-and-two, but if the call-taker isn't able to extract that because they're not properly trained, you got a disaster on your hands," Mr. Cassidy said.

Ms. Crowley also feared the UCT's effect on the pilot program, calling the 9/11 procedure a "problem-plagued system."

An FDNY official dismissed this assertion, arguing that while UCT may have gotten off to a rocky start, few glitches have arisen in the past year. "The problems have been minimal," he said.

But Mr. Cassidy also argued that his members weren't adequately prepared for the modified response.

'No Training for Pilot'

"They literally provided no training to Firefighters and fire officers that are in this pilot program," he said. "They think if a Chief comes by one day and says this is how it's supposed to work, then they've done their job. It's a complete failure on their part."

The department official dismissed these claims, saying that the pilot program was not a major operational change but simply altered when companies use their lights and sirens.

"What training do you need to respond to a 10-20?" he asked, invoking the radio code for modified response.