Annmarie Fertoli, Associate Producer, WNYC News
Annmarie Fertoli is an Associate Producer at WNYC, working with the afternoon news team to produce All Things Considered.
The FDNY is expanding a program that requires firefighters to follow traffic laws, operate at reduced speeds and turn off lights and sirens when responding to certain non-life threatening emergencies to Brooklyn and Staten Island after a successful pilot program in Queens.
Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano said the Modified Response program — aimed at decreasing accidents involving FDNY vehicles — has reduced accidents in Queens by 32 percent over the course of the six-month trial compared to last year.
"We know it's safer for the firefighters," Cassano said. "We know it's safer for the public. And if we have the same success as we did in Queens, it will be a very successful program that will be instituted."
There were 52 accidents in Queens from October 4, 2010, through April 3, 2011 — down from 77 in the period of October 4, 2009 through April 3, 2010, according to statistics from the FDNY. Cassano said those results were better than expected, and he hopes to expand the program citywide by the summer.
But the Uniformed Firefighters Union of Greater New York said the FDNY may be putting firefighters and the public in danger. In a statement, UFA President Steve Cassidy detailed a recent emergency in Richmond Hill, where a reported gas leak was actually a major fire.
He said the FDNY's program delayed the arrival of additional firefighters, resulting in eight firefighter injuries. Cassano countered that the incident was incorrectly coded, and should have been classified as a fire requiring emergency response.
According to the FDNY, the department responds to about 1 million calls a year, and nearly 300,000 of them are non life-threatening emergencies.
The department breaks non life-threatening emergencies into two groups. Calls for incidents including water leaks, fallen trees and tripped alarm boxes will be answered using the modified response. Calls for incidents like suspicious odors or electrical emergencies — which the department said are more serious, and would require more response units — are in the second group. In those cases, the FDNY said the first responding unit would operate as it would in an emergency, while the backup units would follow the modified response program.