NYFD Radio Problems at WTC/New York Times
- December 19, 2001
Radio Used on Sept. 11 Is Questioned
By KEVIN FLYNN
Fire Department officials are investigating whether some firefighters engaged
in rescue efforts at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 did not hear an order
to evacuate the buildings because the handheld radios they were using did not
function properly, officials said yesterday.
Some firefighters have told officials that they never heard an evacuation
order given by Chief Joseph Callan after the second plane hit that morning.
As a result, they said, they did not know that Chief Callan had broadcast a
message over the radios in which he ordered the firefighters to "come down to
A spokesman for the department, Francis X. Gribbon, said investigators had
not determined whether the reported problem resulted from a breakdown in
reception or transmission or whether some other factor may have prevented
some firefighters from hearing the command.
"Some people heard it and some people didn't," he said. "We're doing an
investigation and when we get everyone's testimony we hope to have a
comprehensive idea of just what happened."
The department has already interviewed more than 300 people to get a better
sense of how the fire companies responded on the day of the attack and what
problems they encountered. Among those interviewed have been 135 fire
officers or firefighters. Mr. Gribbon said it was unclear how many of those
interviewed had indicated that they had a problem hearing the order.
Officials have estimated that several hundred firefighters had rushed into
each of the towers and worked there successfully to evacuate some 25,000
people before the towers fell. A total of 343 firefighters lost their lives
in the attack. Officials have cautioned that even those who heard Chief
Callan's command might have ignored it because they were simultaneously
hearing urgent calls for help from fellow firefighters who were trapped and
The hand-held radios used by the department have been a point of contention
within the agency for much of the past year. Commissioner Thomas Von Essen
had moved to replace the current analog radios with a new digital model, but
the newer versions were pulled from service several months ago after
firefighters reported having had difficulty hearing messages at fires. In one
incident, one trapped firefighter's Mayday call was not heard by some of his
colleagues at a Queens fire. The new radios are still being re-evaluated.
During the debate several months ago, many firefighters expressed a
preference for the older radio, with which they were more familiar. But
officials have long said that the analog radio had problems operating in
high-rise buildings, where their signals difficulty penetrating many floors
of steel and concrete.
On the day of the attack, radio communications were further complicated by
the fact that a device at the twin towers, known as a repeater, which helps
to boost the signal of the radios, appears to have been damaged by the impact
of the planes and was not working, officials said.
An official of the union that represents fire supervisors said that it did
not appear that the reception problem had been widespread. "I have not heard
from any of my officers about any communication problem on that day," said
Peter Gorman, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. "But if
they had had the digital radios, they would have more problems because the
repeater system there was operating on an analog mode."
Thomas Manley, the sergeant-at- arms for the Uniformed Firefighters
Association, said that the department had long had a problem with reception
in high-rise buildings.
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