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Firefighters complain they were sent to wrong address in fatal Bronx derailment

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NEW YORK (PIX11) – From behind a stack of papers nearly up to his shoulders, FDNY Lieutenant and union representative Jim McGowan said the papers are from nearly 4,500 firefighter complaints about New York City’s 911 dispatch system.

The system was put into place in 2009 and was meant to centralize calls and make them more efficient, that’s why it’s called “unified call taking” – or UCT.

To McGowan and Uniformed Fire Officers Association captain’s representative Derek Harkin, UCT is called something else.

“We say UCT stands for, ‘U can’t tell,'” Harkin said.

FDNY complaints

According to a complaint from a stack on Lt. James McGowan’s desk, firefighters were sent to the wrong address after a Metro-North train derailed, killing four and injuring 63. (Sonia Moghe)

The UFOA said that because calls are sent to a central location, dispatchers often don’t know the geography of the places callers are talking about, and often waste precious minutes trying to get a location. McGowan said sometimes firefighters are sent to the wrong place altogether.

“(They are responding) to the wrong addresses, they are responding to the wrong borough,” McGowan said.

He’s even gotten complaints from New York City firefighters being sent to an address in Nassau County.

“I mean, that could mean a person’s life,” McGowan said.

The UFOA revealed Thursday a dispatch debacle from December 2013, when firefighters were called to respond to a train derailment.

Logs show dozens of calls from people nearby telling dispatchers about a train derailment. But firefighters were given a ticket sending them to a structural fire at an apartment on Palisades Avenue.

Investigators Examine Site Of Commuter Train Crash In NYC That Killed Four

A rail crew works at the scene of the fatal Metro-North train derailment on December 2, 2013 in the Bronx borough of New York City. Workers used cranes to place passenger cars back on the tracks as they worked to clear the wreckage where four people were killed and dozens more injured the day before. Thousands of commuters Monday had to find alternate ways into New York City as Metro North’s Hudson line remained suspended in the area of the crash. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

“From that address, if you look at the map, you have to drive all the way around to access where the actual emergency was,” Harkin said.

According to a time line released by the UFOA, it took the first engine company seven minutes and 37 seconds to get to the scene. The last ladder company – which was crucial to getting on top of train cars and getting people out – didn’t get on scene until nearly 20 minutes after the 911 call.

Four people were killed because of that Bronx train derailment.

It’s the latest strike against UCT released this week – after a 911 call recording came out from an October 2013 fire at a Staten Island convent. During that recording, you hear a nun tell a dispatcher her address immediately, but it takes the dispatcher more than two minutes to finally transfer her call over to someone else before she gets help.

Now the UFOA wants the city to switch back to a 911 dispatch system it had before, where callers were sent to localized dispatch centers.

The FDNY released a response to PIX 11’s Sonia Moghe in response to her story, which said the following”

“Firefighter’s were not sent to “wrong” address at derailment – they responded to the caller’s location, which was the best information available because caller did not have an address for the train tracks.”

The FDNY spokesman said this did not affect the FDNY’s response.