NYC's 911 Fire Dispatch System To Be Modified

CBS 2 - November 21, 2009

by Marcia Kramer

CBS 2 HD Investigation Gets Results; Unified Call-Taking System To Feature More Questions, More Verification

NEW YORK (CBS) - New York City is revamping its controversial new 9-1-1 dispatching system after two deadly fires raised concern about your safety.

Effective Friday the entire program is changing.

The city's new fire dispatch system has been beset with problems since it went on line May 9, but it took a fatal fire in Brooklyn and a CBS 2 HD investigation to get action.

It was a factor in the fatal fire in Crown Heights on Wednesday, where a father and his two sons died. Police dispatchers initially sent the fire department to the wrong address.

Even a tape released by the Fire Department had the caller giving the wrong address:

Dispatcher: "What's the location of the fire?"

Caller: "It's fire on the top building. Two windows. There's a lot of smoke."

Dispatcher: "What street? What address?"

Caller: "I do not know the address."

But that was the tip of the iceberg. Union officials said that since the new dispatch system -- the Unified Call Taking System -- went into effect, barely trained call-takers have been making lots of mistakes.

"There's over 1,000 of actual incidents the Fire Department received from UCT, from the police call-takers with wrong addresses, wrong descriptions, wrong floors, wrong boroughs," said David Rosenzweig of the Fire Alarm Dispatchers' Benevolent Association.

Uniformed Fire Officers' president Al Hagan has stacks of incident reports highlighting mistake after mistake.

"But for the luck of the draw every one of those pieces of paper could represent fire deaths. It's unsafe for the citizens," Hagan said.

He asked the question that apparently made the NYPD and FDNY decide to modify their program. Starting Tuesday every time 9-1-1 gets a fire call a fire dispatcher will be on the line to ask additional questions and verify the accuracy of the information.

"Let me ask you this: how many bodies, how many bodies will it take to change?" Hagan said.

In addition to the wrong addresses, there were inexplicable incidents. One fire company, for example, was responding to a report of a water leak, but when it got there it discovered the call was really from a pregnant woman whose water broke.