Firefighters are responding to fires faster and preventing more deaths than ever before, new Fire Department statistics released Wednesday show.
The FDNY announcement - seemingly timed to overshadow the fire union's endorsement of Controller William Thompson for mayor - credited the city's new 911 dispatching system for the dramatic drop in response time to blazes.
The average response time to structural fires plunged to four minutes and three seconds for the period from January to August. That's down 13 seconds from the same time a year ago, and 26 seconds from that period in 2007, the FDNY said.
"Anyone who's ever lived through a fire knows seconds can mean lost lives," said Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta. "It's no wonder fewer people have died from fires this year than ever before."
So far this year, 44 people have died in fires, down from 59 during the same span last year.
In a change enacted in June, dispatchers now assign fire units to an emergency as soon as a 911 call comes in - even before the nature of the incident is known.
The change to the dispatching program has drawn some criticism from fire union officials who believe the hurried approach leads to mistakes.
"Improvements have been artificially generated by sending units out the door with incomplete information, often to the wrong address or with the wrong equipment," said Al Hagan, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. "Statistics can be easily manipulated, including response times statistics."
The FDNY released its statistics, in a bid to support Mayor Bloomberg's record, just minutes before the Uniformed Firefighters Association endorsed his challenger in the November election.