Chief Says Radios
Cost City $33M
By MICHELE McPHEE
Daily News Staff Writer
bug-plagued digital radio system yanked from city firehouses
last week cost $33 million, the Fire Department said yesterday
as the FDNY and other officials launched probes into the
"I'm not happy with the amount of testing that was
done," said Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, who
announced an internal investigation. "These radios weren't
ready to go into the field."
Last week, Von Essen put the price tag of the Motorola radios
used by firefighters at $4.5 million. But yesterday, officials
said the whole system — including radios for the Emergency
Medical Service — cost $33 million.
FDNY spokesman Frank Gribbin attributed the money mixup to a
Last week, Von Essen said digital radios are used by Boston
and Chicago firefighters. Union officials in both cities denied
that. Gribbin said both departments use radios similar to the
ones the FDNY purchased, but use them only in analog mode, not
The radios became the latest source of dissension between Von
Essen and fire union officials last week when a firefighter got
lost in a Queens basement blaze and seven Mayday calls went
unheard by his colleagues.
Yesterday, city Controller Alan Hevesi and City Council
Speaker Peter Vallone announced separate investigations into why
the radios were put in use without field tests, and why the
contract was so expensive.
"We will be holding hearings to find out how this could
have happened," Vallone said.
Officials at the Uniformed Firefighters Association welcomed
the Vallone and Hevesi investigations.
"We are asking for those on the outside to look into
this matter, so there is an air of independence," said Tom
Butler, a UFA spokesman. "The UFA's position is that no
firefighter should be put in any danger, and this kind of thing
cannot happen again."
Mayor Giuliani defended Von Essen yesterday, saying the
radios should have been field tested before they were put into
firehouses, but that the expense was a necessary one.
"The Fire Department needed new radios," Giuliani
said. "If you're going to buy new radios it should have
both the capacity to be analog or digital ... which is what the
future is all about."
Von Essen said he hopes to have the system running soon.
"We'll do a lot more testing. We'll ask a lot more
questions," he said. "The radios will be out in the
field in a couple of months."
With Lisa L. Colangelo
Original Publication Date: 3/26/01
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