Thursday, March 6, 2008

Fighting fires in Queens more difficult

When someone calls to report a fire, speed, precision and clarity can save lives. That makes Queens a special challenge for the New York Fire Department.

In a borough of immigrants from more than 100 nations, firefighters say emergency calls can come in languages, dialects and accents that render an address or a description of a fire scene beyond their comprehension. Add to that a street numbering system that confuses even those who were born there.

Experiment in Queens Speeds Firefighters, and Draws Criticism

The difficulties in Queens, the largest borough by land area, have long been reflected in slower fire response times. Last year, fire officials said, the average for Queens was 4 minutes 58 seconds, compared with a citywide average of 4 minutes 27 seconds.

But now, in an experiment that has provoked scorn from the largest firefighters’ union and criticism from some elected officials in Queens, the department is trying to speed response times in the borough by shortening the time dispatchers spend on the phone before they send firefighters out the door. Rather than waiting to elicit such details as the nearest cross street, the room or floor where a fire is located, and the phone number of the 911 caller, the dispatchers have been told to find out what is on fire, get the address, repeat the address and immediately send firefighters.

The other details, fire officials say, can easily be communicated by radio as the trucks are on the move. But the union, the Uniformed Firefighters Association, maintains that the new policy has been proven disastrously flawed and has hampered the response to three Queens fires, two of them involving fatalities, since Feb. 21. Fire officials deny the union’s claims.

Meanwhile, Helen Marshall is meeting with unions to try to work on the response time problem:

Beep to unions: Turn up heat on FDNY


Anonymous said...

What makes fire fighting even more difficult
are the existence of many foreign language signs
on commercial establishments
that contain no English translation.

Most people report existing emergencies to 911,
when they see them occurring,
by reading off the name of the business
they've seen on the sign to the operator.

Anonymous said...

and keep on overbuilding in our neighborhoods.

Maybe close a few firehouses.

That should add to a decrease in response time!

Anonymous said...

Another example how, when you add too many people to a community that neither understands the language or customs of a modern high tech society, things start to break down.

From not having smoke detectors, to covering the floor with matresses and clothing, to doing stupid things with electricty, to not knowing what to do in a fire that hits a building larger than a hut.

But, again, this is Queens. Things are good enough for 'them.' Afterall, the logic goes, its better than where 'they' came from.

Anonymous said...

My neighbor was a fire captain in Flushing and told us about a house that went up in flames because its recent-arrival inhabitants decided to build a fire pit in the living room and roast a goat there. In a wood framed house.