Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
Fire Unions Demand Changes to City’s 911 System
Officials Want Mayor to End Unified Call Taking
Thursday, May 29, 2014
New York City Council member Liz Crowley plans to rally with members of the city’s fire and EMS unions on the steps of City Hall on Friday demanding Mayor Bill de Blasio change how 911 calls are handled, just over a week after his administration suspended a multi-billion dollar project to upgrade the system pending a 60-day review.
Crowley and union officials want the mayor to suspend Unified Call Taking, or UCT. That protocol requires 911 operators who work for the police department to collect the initial information for every call, even when it’s a fire.
Members of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association say that this initial information often contains errors and leads to delayed response times.
Crowley told WNYC that she wants the mayor to act “immediately” and not spend time studying a system that doesn’t work.
“It's no more reliable today when you call 911 in a life threatening emergency than it was ten years ago before any changes were implemented,” Crowley said.
Public Advocate Leticia James also raised concerns about UCT back in April when she sent a letter to First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris asking the administration to suspend the UCT protocol.
Shorris told WNYC that the city’s review of the 911 system would include a look at the 9-1-1 systems and its operations.
But UCT is just one aspect of the city’s emergency response system.
Bad communication between the police and fire departments at the scene of an emergency can have deadly consequences, according to Richard Alles, legislative director of the UFOA and a deputy chief of the Fire Department of New York.
Alles told WNYC that firefighters could have saved NYPD Officer Dennis Guerra, who died three days after responding to a fire at a Coney Island high rise building in April 6th. But Alles said the firefighters did not know that Officer Guerra and his partner were trapped until they already started stretching their hose.
Speaking at press conference in Staten Island on Thursday, Mayor de Blasio said there was no evidence that Officer Guerra could have been saved. He said the issue was bad protocol and said in the days after the fire, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton changed the rules for police officers responding to fire calls.
“So I think the story here sadly is we didn't have the protocols we needed to have,” said de Blasio. “Thank god we have them now.”