Oops! FDNY contractor presses wrong button, shuts down NYC’s emergency dispatch system

Oops! FDNY contractor presses wrong button, shuts down NYC’s emergency dispatch system

An outside contractor making 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 citywide crisis.

Wednesday’s snafu at the FDNY’s MetroTech Center facility forced staffers to rely on ancient methods — pens, paper and telephones rather than digital systems — to gather facts and get word to first responders as 911 calls came in, officials for unions representing the agency’s dispatchers and medics told The Post.

Delays responding to emergency calls ranged from a few minutes to more than an hour, said Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2507, which represents city EMTs and paramedics.

Barzilay said he is unaware of any deaths resulting from the chaos, but added it’s difficult to know whether patients eventually suffered adverse effects because help arrived later than normal.

“If someone has a stroke and you don’t get there on time, their outcome could be worse,” he said.

The shutdown occurred around 11 a.m. when a repairman from communications company Lightpath responded to a report of an earlier glitch at the data center.

An outside contractor at the Downtown Brooklyn center pressed a button to shut off the dispatch system when he mistakingly thought it would open a door.
An outside contractor at the Downtown Brooklyn center pressed a button to shut off the dispatch system when he mistakingly thought it would open a door.

The repairman mistook a glass-enclosed button, marked “EPO” for “emergency power off,” for an electronic door release button, so he opened the lid and accidentally shut down the system, workers recalled.

“I’d love to know how someone not authorized was able to get to that switch so easily,” fumed Barzilay. “That should never happen.”

With systems down, workers heroically scrambled to get people to safety.

As firefighters responded to a Queens fire shortly after noon, one borough engine company was responding and providing care 13 miles away to an unconscious patient — until police arrived to whisk the patient away in a squad car to a local hospital, sources said.

About a half hour earlier, another Queens engine company spent an hour performing CPR on a patient until an ambulance could arrive, said Faye Smyth, president of the Local 4959 of the Uniformed Fire Alarm Dispatchers Benevolent Association.

And firefighters from a Queens ladder company around the same time had to care for an unconscious diabetic until EMTs arrived more than an hour later, she added.

The agency’s radio systems were down until 2:30 p.m., and mobile data terminals out in the field weren’t fully operational until 6 p.m., Smyth and Barzilay said.

According to Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2507, the shutdown caused delays ranging from a few minutes to more than an hour.
According to Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2507, the shutdown caused delays ranging from a few minutes to more than an hour.
Natan Dvir for NY Post
Barzilay said he is unaware of any deaths that occurred because of the outage.
Barzilay said he is unaware of any deaths that occurred because of the outage.
Juan Gonzalez/NY Post

Lightpath has assured the city its staffer will no longer be handling its FDNY work, sources said. The company did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

The FDNY said in a statement that its computer-aided dispatch system for firefighters never went offline but that a similar dispatch system for EMS was out for about 90 minutes.

Smyth accused the FDNY of delivering facts with “rose-colored glasses.”

She said the firefighters’ computer system might have continued operating “in house” at the center but more importantly, stopped connecting to mobile data terminals in rigs out in the field — meaning dispatchers were still cut off from first responders for hours.

Communications company Lightpath told the city the staffer will no longer be handling FDNY work.
Communications company Lightpath told the city the staffer will no longer be handling FDNY work.
Paul Martinka for NY Post

It was the first time city first responder radio systems were out since the 2003 blackout, Barzilay said.

Smyth said she believes the city must take a hard look at creating a second data center in part to avoid a potential catastrophe should the Brooklyn facility experience a similar shutdown. She said the city was actually better equipped decades ago when each borough had its own center.

“If one of the borough’s lost power, the other four … picked up the slack — once again proving that you should never have all your eggs in one basket,” she said.

The FDNY's mobile data terminals weren't working until 6 p.m. that evening.
The FDNY’s mobile data terminals weren’t working until 6 p.m. that evening.
Juan Gonzalez/NY Post

City Councilwoman Joann Ariola (R-Queens), who chairs the fire and emergency management committee, was floored after hearing of the shutdown. She said she plans to hold an oversight hearing and “hold the FDNY accountable for not having a backup system.”

“If there’s a problem, they need to correct it and invest in a new system,” she said.

One city source accused Acting Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh of trying to take “credit” for overseeing the implementation of the new computer-aided dispatch system last year — but now not wanting “to take the blame for its failure.”

“It’s a serious problem, and the fact that it was discovered in this way is shameful,” the source said.

However, Kavanagh fired back in a statement, saying she is “extremely proud of the work done by our members during this power outage and the fact that the department replaced an aging dispatch system last year with a [computer-aided dispatch] system that continued to function.”

“Had we not acted to replace the aging system last year, it would have ultimately failed,” she insisted.

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Rich Calder, Susan Edelman, Larry Celona

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