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Firefighters' Union to Ask Judge to Halt City's Use of 'Deadly' 911 System

By  Amanda Mikelberg and Andrea Swalec | July 17, 2013 4:45pm | Updated on July 17, 2013 9:53pm

 The union plans to ask a judge to stop use of the city's problem-plagued new 911 system immediately, officials said July 17, 2013.
Firefighters' Union Press Conference
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KIPS BAY —  The city firefighters' union plans go to court within the next 24 hours to ask a judge to force the city to stop using its "deadly" new 911 dispatch system, officials said Wednesday.

Uniformed Firefighters Association president Steve Cassidy said his union will ask a judge to stop the city from using the 2-month-old, $88 million computer-aided dispatch system, citing a host of delays and other problems.

"When there is a delay, firefighters are in danger. It's unacceptable. It's costing lives," Cassidy said at a press conference at the UFA's headquarters in Kips Bay Thursday, calling the system "deadly." He added that the union will ask a judge to reinstate the previous system.

However, the city and the fire department denied that the new system has problems, adding that there have been no significant delays and that any initial system outages have not compromised response times.

At a Wednesday press conference at City Hall, Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway disputed UFA claims Wednesday that 911 dispatchers waited 8 minutes before sending an ambulance to the site of a Bronx house fire that left two children hurt, saying union officials misread the call log-time stamp, according to the New York Daily News.

Holloway said the UFA was misattributing the initial call time to an unrelated 911 call to the same dispatcher who fielded the Bronx blaze call.

According to the UFA, crews didn't arrive at 1507 Commonwealth Ave. until 12 minutes after the initial 2:40 a.m. call, well above the average 4- or 5-minute response time, Cassidy said.

But the FDNY disputed the gap between when the 911 call was received and when firefighters were dispatched.

The emergency response center received a call about the fire just before 2:48 a.m., and the FDNY began to respond just before 2:49 a.m., according to the FDNY. Firefighters arrived on the scene just after 2:52 a.m., an FDNY spokesman said, responding in 4 minutes and 42 seconds from the initial call.

“There is a time stamp on a sheet of paper that Mr. Cassidy is using to say it was 8 minutes and 22 seconds. All that means is on occasion 911 will leave a prior call field populated because they may have lost the caller (or) they may want to call them back,” Holloway said, according to the News.

“In this case, initially the time was added from the prior call to the fire call. It was totally unrelated,” Holloway added, declining to say what the first call was about.

The city Law Department will look into the union's claims once court documents are received, a spokeswoman said.

But critics say Wednesday's fire delay is the latest in a host of problems with the 911 system.

In the first few days of its introduction, the system went dark repeatedly, including a 20-minute outage on May 31, leaving city ambulances unable to communicate with the dispatch center, officials confirmed.

On June 4, 911 dispatchers waited four minutes before sending crews to the scene of 4-year-old Ariel Russo, who died after being hit by a teenage driver fleeing police on the Upper West Side, according to critics. The city's Department of Investigation is looking into the incident, which FDNY officials have blamed on human error by a dispatcher who they say was not at her terminal at the time of the call.

On Tuesday, EMS crews took 30 minutes to respond to a City Council intern who fainted during a press conference with Christine Quinn, prompting the City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate to personally call NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly for a response.

"All of those things should not have had to happen is the bottom line,” Quinn said Wednesday of the delays.

Fire officials justified their response time to the City Council fainting incident by blaming a large call volume and the relatively low level of the emergency.

“Every one of the 14 Basic Life Support ambulances in the operational area, including Greenpoint and Williamsburg, was engaged in responding to calls, including a respiratory arrest and cardiac incident," FDNY spokeswoman Elishevan Zakheim said in a statement.