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FDNY Radio Silence Cover Why would any fire department executive make questionable judgments about radios and technology when reliable information about critical performance deficiencies is available? FDNY Captain John Joyce and Bill Bowen tell a dramatic story of politics, high finance, and blatant impropriety with the City of New York’s purchase of millions of dollars of Motorola digital radios in their book

entitled “Radio Silence FDNY“. The authors expose the technical problems that were well-known before the radios were deployed as well as Motorola’s sales strategy leading to the purchase. The radios were withdrawn from service just a few days after they were deployed and FDNY’s old analog radios were reissued.

This book is a “must read” for every firefighter and police officer who may be required to use a digital two-way radio system, as well as public-safety executives who are involved in the selection and purchase of such equipment.

Quotes from page 56 of the book.

The training Unit tried out the radios, simulating various conditions, and it was quickly obvious that those radios had serious problems. When officers talked, after a second or two, they would hear their own voice coming out of the speakers of the other radios around them. In a fire scene that would be very distracting. Then when someone else talked, they would see his or her mouth working, but no sound came from the radio for a few seconds. They found that when two or more radios were keyed to transmit at the same time, nothing came out of the radios. It was as if one radio canceled out every other radio. This was a serious problem because in an emergency, when an event could result in death or injury to a firefighter, a firefighter will grab his or her radio, press the transmit key and scream, “Stop!” or “Urgent!” or “Mayday!” and there is no luxury of time. They are excited in such a situation where someone might die and they can see it coming.

The training officers duplicated those situations with the Motorola XTS3500 digital radio. When they spoke into the radios they discovered that their first few words were cut off. “Don’t take the window!” would come out as, “Take the window.” If they yelled, “Stop!” or “Mayday!”, nothing was heard because the single word was cut off. These problems, coupled with the fact that they knew not all transmissions were being received or fully received, meant on the fireground the radios were going to be a huge liability.

In addition, the digital radios made their voices into flat monotones. The result was the absence of emotion even when transmissions were received. In a fire scene, typically the firefighters know the voices of the other firefighters. They know them and their nature and they can tell by the excitement level of their voices, to some degree, a great deal about what is going on with them at a particular time. If a certain firefighters is screaming a warning, they know the urgency of the situation. The voices on the Motorola digital radios simply didn’t have the same impact. Because the voices sounded mechanical and robotic, it was often difficult to tell whom you were talking to. With the volume low, it was hard to hear someone speaking. Also, when one of them transmitted, officers with radios far away could hear, but those much closer could not.

Captain Joyce and the other training officers formed the opinion that these radios would be unsafe for use on the fireground. They knew that they needed to inform the Chief of Training and those at FDNY Headquarters about the serious problems they had encountered. This was normal practice when a piece of equipment was found to be deficient.

Radio Silence FDNY web page

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