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City Beat

FDNY Chief Says Radios
Cost City $33M

By MICHELE McPHEE
Daily News Staff Writer

he 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 contract.

"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 "computer glitch."

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 digital.

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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