Some Firefighters Say New 911 System is Error Prone

AM New York - November 12, 2009

by Jason Fink

A dispatcher error that sent two fire trucks to the wrong address during a fatal blaze in Woodside last week has exposed deep anger by some firefighters over the city's new 911 system.

While most agree the error - a typo that rendered an address as 62nd Street rather than 65th Street - could also have happened under the old system, firefighters say mistakes have become more common since the Unified Call Taking system went into effect in May.

"This happens on a daily basis," said a fire union delegate who works out of Manhattan and declined to give his name.

Under the old system, callers would speak to an NYPD dispatcher and then be patched through to the FDNY or EMS, depending on the emergency. Now, an NYPD call taker gets the information and sends it electronically to the appropriate agency.

City officials say this is more efficient and has reduced response times, which are down by an average of 17 seconds.

"We've cut out the middle man," said Jason Post, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Post, who said the city does not have data on dispatch errors, suggested the complaints amounted to firefighters protecting their turf.

But the FDNY dispatchers, firefighters argue, are more familiar with department protocol and are able to ask more relevant questions of the caller.

One firefighter in Queens told amNewYork that he was sent to a call recently that was first reported as a fire, then a water leak and when his unit arrived they realized it was an elderly woman who needed EMS. Dispatchers were sending revised info while they were en route.