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Motorola radio woes at fatal fire highlighted in Phila council hearing.

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  • buck530
    Posted on Fri, Oct. 01, 2004 Council hears of radio glitches at fire Firefighters at a deadly blaze in August reported excessive busy signals, a city fire
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2004
      Posted on Fri, Oct. 01, 2004

      Council hears of radio glitches at fire
      Firefighters at a deadly blaze in August reported excessive busy
      signals, a city fire official said.
      By Jennifer Lin
      Inquirer Staff Writer

      Acting Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers has raised questions with city
      officials about radio communication problems at the scene of a Port
      Richmond fire on Aug. 20 that killed two firefighters.

      In testimony yesterday before City Council, Ayers said he was
      seeking information from the city's Department of Public Property
      and Motorola Inc. about problems encountered by firefighters at the
      fatal fire.

      The hearing was the second by City Council to examine persistent
      complaints from public-safety workers about the reliability of the
      new radio system. Motorola was awarded a $54 million contract to
      outfit not only the Police and Fire Departments, but all city
      agencies involved in emergency situations.

      In the face of mounting reports of radio problems, the City
      Controller's Office said yesterday it would launch an audit of the
      Motorola contract.

      "We want to know whether the system is accomplishing all of its
      goals," said Tony Radwanski, deputy city controller.

      Ayers testified that on the night of the rowhouse fire, firefighters
      at the scene complained of an excessive level of blocked calls -
      or "bonking," as they call it, for the busy signal the radios make
      when a call cannot be completed.

      Ayers also said there was no evidence that a special emergency
      feature of the radios was activated. The new Motorola radios are
      designed to automatically open up a microphone for 10 seconds when
      an emergency button is hit. The so-called "hot mike" allows everyone
      to hear what is happening around a firefighter in distress.

      But according to department records of communication that night,
      Ayers said there was "not evidence of audio from the hot mike."

      Ayers said after the hearing that an investigation by the city's
      fire marshal into the fire is ongoing. In addition, because the fire
      resulted in the deaths of two firefighters, the National Institute
      for Occupational Safety and Health, a federal office, is reviewing
      what happened that night.

      Capt. John Taylor and firefighter Rey Rubio died after becoming
      trapped in the basement of a house on Belgrade Street in Port

      "We want to have all the information available to complete the
      investigation," Ayers said.

      In July, Councilman Frank Rizzo called for a hearing into the radio
      issue after the Police Department experienced back-to-back episodes
      of curtailed service.

      Yesterday's hearing was meant to update City Council on what has
      been happening behind the scenes between Motorola and the Police
      Department to fix the problems.

      Deputy Police Commissioner Charles Brennan said the department
      had "turned the corner" in terms of working out technical glitches
      with the new system that operates on the 800-megahertz band of the
      radio frequency spectrum.

      But at the same time, Council heard about increasing reports of
      problems coming from firefighters.

      Ayers said that since the new radio system was installed in October
      2002, the department has received 50 written reports from fire
      commanders about radio problems at fire scenes. Forty percent of
      those reports have been filed since July.

      Michael Moore, the Fire Department's chief dispatcher, said that of
      the 50 reports of radio problems:

      10 were considered unfounded.

      16 were attributable to hard-to-reach locations such as basements or
      elevator shafts.

      12 were referred to the city's Public Property Department for
      further investigation.

      12 are still being investigated.

      City officials suspect that in some cases, cell-phone transmissions
      are blocking radio calls by rescue workers and police.

      This week, an outside consultant turned over to the Public Property
      Department a report on cell-phone interference. Joseph James, deputy
      commissioner for public property, told Council that RCC Consultants
      was able to verify cell-phone interference at 44 locations that had
      been identified as possible "dead zones" by firefighters and police.

      James said the level of interference ranged from "marginal to high."

      James would not release the locations but said they were "well
      spread out."


      Contact staff writer Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659 or


      © 2004 Philadelphia Inquirer and wire service sources. All Rights
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