FDNY contractor presses wrong button and shuts down emergency dispatch system
An outside contractor carrying out repairs at the FDNY’s emergency dispatch center in downtown Brooklyn pressed the wrong button to open a door – and shut down the agency’s communications system, triggering an hours-long crisis in all the city.
Wednesday’s snafu at FDNY’s MetroTech Center facilities forced staff members to rely on old-fashioned methods — pens, paper and phones rather than digital systems — to gather facts and brief first responders as they go. and as 911 calls came in, union officials representing the agency’s dispatchers and doctors. says La Poste.
Delays in responding to emergency calls ranged from minutes to more than an hour, said Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2507, which represents the city’s EMTs and paramedics.
Barzilay said he was not aware of any deaths resulting from the chaos, but added that it was unclear whether patients ultimately suffered adverse effects as help arrived later than normal.
“If someone has a stroke and you don’t get there in time, their outcome could be worse,” he said.
The shutdown happened around 11 a.m. when a repairman from communications company Lightpath responded to a report of an earlier problem at the data center.
The repairman mistook a glazed button, marked “EPO” for “emergency stop”, for an electronic door opener button, so he opened the lid and accidentally turned off the system, the workers recalled.
“I would like to know how an unauthorized person could access this switch so easily,” fumed Barzilay. “That should never happen.”
With systems down, workers heroically rushed to get people to safety.
As firefighters responded to a blaze in Queens shortly after noon, a borough engine company responded and provided care 13 miles away to an unconscious patient – until police arrived to take the patient away in a police car to a local hospital, sources said.
About half an hour earlier, another engine company in Queens spent an hour performing CPR on a patient until an ambulance could arrive, said Faye Smyth, president of Local 4959 of the Uniformed Fire Alarm Dispatchers Benevolent Association.
And firefighters from a ladder company in Queens around the same time had to tend to an unconscious diabetic until paramedics arrived more than an hour later, she added .
The agency’s radio systems were down until 2:30 p.m., and mobile data terminals in the field weren’t fully operational until 6 p.m., Smyth and Barzilay said.
Lightpath assured the city that his staff would no longer deal with his FDNY work, sources said. The company did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
The FDNY said in a statement that its computer-assisted dispatch system for firefighters never went offline, but a similar dispatch system for EMS was down for about 90 minutes.
Smyth accused the FDNY of delivering facts with “rosy glasses”.
She said the fire department’s computer system might have continued to operate “internally” at the center, but more importantly it would have stopped connecting to mobile data terminals in the field platforms, meaning dispatchers were still cut off from first responders for hours on end.
It was the first time the city’s first responder radio systems had been out of service since the 2003 blackout, Barzilay said.
Smyth said she believes the city needs to carefully consider creating a second data center in part to avoid potential disaster if the Brooklyn facility suffers a similar shutdown. She said the city was actually better equipped decades ago, when each borough had its own center.
“If one of the boroughs lost power, the other four … took over – proving once again that you should never have all your eggs in one basket,” she said.
Councilwoman Joann Ariola (R-Queens), who chairs the fire and emergency management committee, was upset after hearing about the closure. She said she plans to hold a monitoring hearing and “hold the FDNY accountable for not having a backup system.”
“If there’s a problem, they have to fix it and invest in a new system,” she says.
A city source has accused acting fire marshal Laura Kavanagh of trying to take ‘credit’ for overseeing the implementation of the new computer-aided dispatch system last year, but to no longer want to “assume responsibility for its failure”.
“This is a serious issue, and the fact that it was discovered in this way is shameful,” the source said.
However, Kavanagh fired back in a statement, saying she was “extremely proud of the work done by our members during this power outage and that the department last year replaced an aging dispatch system with a [computer-aided dispatch] system which continued to operate.
“If we hadn’t acted to replace the aging system last year, it would have ultimately failed,” she insisted.