by WILLIAM MURPHY AND DAN JANISON
Fire and police commanders may finally be forced to enter into a formal agreement in coming weeks on who is in charge at emergencies, sources say.
This comes just as a national commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks gets set to hold hearings in New York City on May 18 and 19.
The lack of a written protocol has led to a series of nasty incidents between police and firefighters over the years. Most notably, the disorganization was blamed for a lack of cooperation in the hours and days after the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.
The police and fire sources, not all agreeing on the reasons for the added pressure or the appropriate way to fashion a formal response system, made the following points:
The driving force behind the latest effort is the looming hearings by the 9/11 commission this month. The city could be embarrassed if, two years and eight months after the most recent attack on the World Trade Center, there is no formal response system in place for a future emergency.
Adding to the pressure is an October deadline for localities to create an Incident Command System for emergencies to qualify for Homeland Security funds. Failure to do so could cost the city tens, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars in lost future aid.
With the Republican National Convention to open here in August, the city and its Republican mayor could be shamed if something went wrong and the federally mandated response system was not in place.
"One could write a book on this: 'The Battle of the Badges: 180 Years of Rivalry Unimpeded by Cooperation,'" one source said. "Is this really serving the public good?"
It has been eight years since Gov. George Pataki decreed that the state have formal procedures for responding to emergencies.
The policies are variously called an Incident Response System, an Incident Command System or an Incident Management System.
Such systems are in place for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and many other federal, state and local agencies.
Pataki issued his executive order March 5, 1996, well after the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 and well before the Sept. 11, 2001, attack that brought down the Twin Towers, killing 2,800, including 343 firefighters.
"How many firefighters and police officers must die before someone addresses this problem?" Capt. Peter Gorman, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said in a recent interview.
The fire unions and Fire Department sources blame the lack of an agreement on the insistence by police commanders that they be in control at the scene of most emergencies.
Neither department would comment this week.
Gorman noted that a private consultant hired by the city after 9/11 said in its report on the Fire Department that it should create an Incident Command System, something the department embraced. He noted that a companion report on the Police Department by the same consultant did not recommend such a system.
Staff writer Sean Gardiner contributed to this story.
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