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City Firefighters Have Mixed Reactions To 9/11 Report

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City firefighters say they are still concerned about communication problems mentioned in the 9/11 commission report, but they agree with the panel's recommendation that cities which are prime terror targets should receive more homeland security funding.

The Fire Department lost 343 members and rescued more than 20,000 people on September 11, 2001.

Most firefighters NY1 spoke with Friday say they are still concerned about communication problems mentioned in yesterday's report, specifically the failure of hand-held radios.

"There was a lot of precious time that should have been spent on questions that needed to be answered that were addressed to [former] Mayor [Rudolph] Giuliani and [former] Fire Commissioner [Thomas] Von Essen about the handy-talky communications that were absolutely terrible," said retired firefighter Billy Bingo. "In a fire situation, communication is key. That's why I believe we lost so many men, because the guys weren't told to get out."

"I think the commission has done a very good job," said retired firefighter Lee Ielpi, who also lost his son on 9/11. "There were some issues along the way. There were some politics, I think, along the way that didn't belong there. It should be bi-partisan, but I think the end result is what I was hoping for. What I am looking for now is that everything the commission is presenting to the government we try and implement."

The 9/11 report cited the bravery of emergency personnel at the World Trade Center and success in evacuating tens of thousands from the buildings. However, it also criticized the coordination and communication among agencies like the FDNY and NYPD.

The report says, "The attacks on 9/11 demonstrated that even the most robust emergency response capabilities can be overwhelmed if an attack is large enough.”

The commission recommends emergency response agencies nationwide adopt a uniform federal incident command system.

But Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who instituted a revamped system here this spring, says there is no evidence that the police and fire departments didn't work well together at the twin towers.

“I don’t think that anybody that seriously thinks about how police and fire work when there is an emergency and they’re running into buildings or someone is shooting that you want somebody from a third agency telling the cops how to do their job or telling the firefighters how to do their job,” Bloomberg said on his weekly radio program Friday.

But the head of the firefighters union disagrees. He says the mayor's new protocols don't reflect what the people of the city need.

“Ultimately it’s about putting one agency in charge and letting them use the resources,” said Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steven Cassidy. “The mayor’s protocol puts two agencies in charge, and it'll never work. Things will fall through the cracks. Public safety is absolutely going to be compromised over the existing protocols that this new mayor has come down with.”

While the report says that failure of Fire Department radios was not the primary reason for the high number of firefighter deaths at the towers, union leaders wouldn't downplay the need for giving their members the proper tools of the trade.

“What we need to do is have the equipment, the training that our members need to go out and do our job effectively,” said Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch.

“The radios didn't function the way they needed to, and everyone knows that,” said Cassidy.

Since 9/11 the city has given the FDNY new radios, but the report wants improvements to go a step further, calling for signal corps units to keep emergency responders and public officials on the same wavelength when large scale disasters occur.

The mayor says one of the positives of the 9/11 commission report for the city is the recommendation to base federal homeland security funding on assessment of risk and vulnerability, putting New York at the top of the list.

“When you catch a terrorist, they have in their pocket a map of New York, not a map of some cornfield,” said Bloomberg.

  • See NY1's full coverage of the commission findings and reactions to the report.
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