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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bloomberg Is Understanding! by Lynne Winderbaum

No one should say that our mayor is not understanding of how unique challenges can affect the statistical measurement of one’s job performance. And so it was that I listened to Mayor Bloomberg explain with a bit of impatience and annoyance that the city’s performance in the wake of the snowstorm was not up to par because of a series of unique challenges. He begged for understanding because, you see, it was the biggest effort to clear snow that the city has ever seen, there were a large number of city agencies and personnel involved, there were near white-out conditions, and hundreds of city buses and dozens of ambulances were stuck in the snow.

But the mayor should be aware that all that matters is the outcome, not the difficulties inherent to the job. The data shows that the average response time to structural fires in 2008 was four minutes 33 seconds. The average response time for medical emergencies in 2008 was four minutes 30 seconds. However, in this case, data released today show that the FDNY had a 3-hour delay in response to critical cases, like heart attacks, and 12-hour delays for non-critical calls. A five alarm fire in Elmhurst raged for 3 hours when firefighters were delayed by the blizzard conditions.

Surely, firemen and EMT’s are to be judged “ineffective” when it comes to a response time so far below the city standard.

It is incumbent on the news organizations, for the sake of our citizens, to FOIL a list of all firemen and EMT’s that were on duty during this time period and to identify them by name in the newspapers. The mere fact that response time data was influenced by so many factors beyond their control, as detailed by the mayor above, is no excuse to fail to reach or exceed the standard of response time expected by the city.

The Fire Department of the New York is expected to comply with the request of the news agencies for the release of names and response times recorded in this snapshot of time. Extraordinary challenges notwithstanding, emergency responses to all calls should be within five minutes.

UFA objections that FDNY personnel who were not on duty during this time period would not produce data, and therefore would not be publicly judged as are their colleagues, are unfounded. UFA objections that response time data does not reflect the totality of the job and are unreliable are unfounded as well.

Perhaps there should be merit bonuses for the fastest responders to ensure that firefighters show more dedication to their work and our citizens’ welfare. Those who take on the most challenging conditions are no exception. Data is king and the statistics are the only objective way to measure the value of the workers.

It is also unfounded to excuse the longer response times from any engine companies who were impacted by the increased demands created by the closure of firehouses in their neighborhoods.

It is commendable that the FDNY receives the gratitude of the citizenry and the satisfaction of knowing they have saved lives and property. But these things are not measurable as are response times.

It is incomprehensible that in the face of this disappointing data the mayor would excuse FDNY performance by saying, ““And I want them to know that we do appreciate the severity of these conditions they face, and that the bottom line is we are doing everything we possibly can, and pulling every resource from every possible place to meet the unique challenges…”

Oh wait. Nobody wants to privatize the fire department or find reason for it to be run by corporate interests who have scant experience improving performance in fire and medical emergencies. Nevermind.

Lynne Winderbaum, retired teacher
Three of Winderbaum’s former students at JHS 109 — (from left) State Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Holder; Florence Gilpin, now a DOE principal; and former New York Jets player Chy Davidson — showed up to praise her