Houston Fire Department radio system plagued with problems

Jessica Willey Image
Saturday, January 17, 2015
HFD radio system plagued with problems
We're learning more about communication issues that not only endanger firefighter lives but those of citizens they respond to save

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- There are new problems with the Houston Fire Department's communication tools that not only endanger firefighter lives, but also those of citizens they serve.

Eyewitness News has learned for almost two weeks, firefighters have been reporting issues with their handheld radios. According to Alvin White, President of Houston Professional Firefighters Association, the radios are not reliable. A firefighter sending a message may not be heard or she or he may not be able to hear someone calling them. If trapped in a fire, it could potentially be deadly.

"Radios are our lifeline. Without them working, we're in a lot of danger," White told Eyewitness News.

The Houston Fire Department administration is aware of the problem and has created a process to address it.

"It's not really an HFD problem. It's not something we can fix, but it is our problem because it compromises the safety of firefighters at emergency incidents," Captain Ruy Lozano with HfD said.

Lozano says they've asked every fire station to test their radios at the beginning of each shift and if it doesn't work, they've created an online reporting system.

It is the latest hiccup related to the $140 million digital system the city bought from Motorola Solutions and implemented in 2013, just one month before the Southwest Inn Fire that claimed four firefighters' lives. A state report cited more than 90 communication breakdowns on that scene.

"We've challenged Motorola. Let's get this fixed.," Lozano added.

Motorola spokesman, Steve Gorecki, said the previous problems were the result of training and operational issues.

"When Motorola sells a product we stick with the customer to make sure the system works. This is mission critical communications. The lives of first responders and the people they serve are at stake. Motorola is here to help," Gorecki said in response to the latest problems.

Both the union and administration fear, if not corrected soon, the failures could lead to disaster.

"We need to get this fixed. It's a safety issue and that's our number one priority," Lozano said.

Faulty radios are also being sent off to Motorola so that they can diagnose and correct the issue. According to the union, two were sent away Friday and in 11 fires over the last 24 hours, there were four radio failures.

Motorola points out the City of Houston chose in October 2013 not to renew a service contract.