Council Holds Hearing on 911 System

NY 1 - December 11, 2009

by Amanda Farinacci

The City Council held a hearing Thursday on changes made to the 911 call system in the wake of a deadly fire in Brooklyn. Members of the New York City Fire Department and New York City Police Department testified before several council committees studying the Unified Call Taking System.

Since it was introduced in May, the UCT program has been at the center of criticism from the firefighters' union, which calls the system "fatally flawed."

"This system has many failures, in addition to the biggest one. They are lying about response times," said Uniformed Firefighters' Association President Stephen Cassidy in front of City Hall. "The Bloomberg administration is not telling the truth."

Fire dispatchers are now being conferenced-in on 911 calls so they can ask questions and verify details.

The city says the new process has cut response times by an average of 30 seconds.

"From an outset, it saves time, valuable time, because seconds count, and you only have to talk to one person, not two," said Deputy Mayor Edward Skyler. "That's a basic premise. Anybody that disagrees with that, I can't explain it any clearer. Talking to one person is just faster than talking to two people."

Of the more than 1,800 complaints have been filed by firefighter units about the UCT, about 500 were investigated by the New York Police Department and in 173 cases firefighters had been sent to the wrong location.

"Under their new scheme, their new shell game, that time has risen from five seconds to over a minute," Cassidy said. "So the New York City Fire Department reports response times, they don't count that minute. I am certain if your family dials 911 and your house is on fire, that minute counts to them."

Three people were killed in a November fire in Crown Heights, Brooklyn after confusion over the location of the emergency.

Firefighters originally showed up a block away from the blaze.