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Commissioners Seek Closer Ties for Fire Dept. and NYC Police


May 24, 2002
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Commissioners Seek Closer Ties for Fire Dept. and NYC Police

by William K. Rashbaum, New York Times

The commissioners of the New York City Police and Fire Departments said yesterday that for the first time they would exchange liaison officers and carry out specialized training together. The moves, they said, are intended to improve communications between the two agencies, but may also ease the tensions that have long divided some of their members.

The effort by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and Nicholas Scoppetta, the fire commissioner, was prompted in part by miscues after the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, officials said. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is expected to announce the new arrangement next week.

As part of the plan, the Police Department will also begin to take senior Fire Department operations officials on orientation flights in police helicopters next week so they can eventually use them to better observe major fires and other incidents, officials said.

"We are the two biggest emergency response entities and we need to be able to talk on an ongoing basis on a whole myriad of issues," Mr. Kelly said. "I think it's now time, post-9/11, to leave whatever rivalries there are on the ice or on the football field," he added, referring to the annual hockey and football matches between the departments. "We've just got simply to work more closely, simply for the benefit of the people of the city."

Mr. Scoppetta, who noted that he and Mr. Kelly meet frequently, said that with the city facing new challenges — and possibly more attacks — the agencies understood that they must dispense with trivial rivalries. "If we didn't know it before 9/11, we certainly know it now," he said.

The effort to improve coordination between the departments is intended in some measure to address communications failures that became apparent during the response to the Sept. 11 attack.

For example, Battalion Chief Joseph Pfeifer, who was directing fire operations from the lobby of the north tower, has told supervisors that he had trouble discerning the movement of fire across the upper floors, even though police helicopters were circling the building. But the helicopters' observations were not heard on the fire department's radio system because it was carried on a different frequency.

But the lack of coordination between the agencies extends beyond that event. In fact, for decades, members of the two departments have at times bumped heads at emergency scenes, squabbling over jurisdiction and carping about each other's ability to perform various rescue operations. Indeed, the disputes have been so numerous that the phrase the Battle of the Badges was coined to describe them.

Mr. Scoppetta said that under the new plan, a Police Department captain or deputy inspector would be assigned to his agency's headquarters and given direct access to the chiefs of department and operations, and that a Fire Department battalion chief would be assigned to 1 Police Plaza with access to the highest uniformed official.




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