Navy firefighters: Radios failed during Navy Yard shooting

WASHINGTON – Faulty radios may have slowed the treatment of victims at the Navy Yard shooting.

The Navy’s fire department, civilians who protect naval facilities across the Washington region, were the first to arrive at the Navy Yard to treat the wounded Monday morning after Aaron Alexis opened fire inside Building 197.

But Greg Russell, president of Local F121 of the International Association of Firefighters, says firefighters could not communicate with each other because their digital radios did not work.

He says they actually had to send runners between the command center inside a building and the area where their equipment was staged.

“I believe that the radio problems is a contributing factor to the chaos and delay of prompt medical care to the victims,” says Russell.

He says he can’t say for sure if the faulty radios led to the loss of a life. But it was not the first time the radios have malfunctioned.

“We have been raising this issue for the greater portion of five years. This is not new to the Naval District of Washington,” he says.

The Navy firefighters eventually borrowed radios from the D.C. fire department to get the job done.

The Navy fire department has 250 firefighters in the Washington District spread among 13 fire houses. They protect all naval facilities including the Navy Yard, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, the Naval Academy in Annapolis and the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland.

Russell says the radios’ Mayday system, which should alert firefighters when one of their own is in trouble, also doesn’t work. And he says the radios eat up batteries at an alarming rate.

The radios are actually borrowed from the Army, which uses them at several facilities including the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

In response to an inquiry from WTOP about the faulty radios, the Navy issued the following written statement:

“At this time the Naval District Washington focus remains on healing as a Navy family and transitioning to normal operations at the Washington Navy Yard. The Secretary of the Navy has ordered a review of physical security and we will support it fully. Our biggest concern is our Navy Family.”

On Thursday, the union representing civilian police officers at the Navy Yard complained about being under-staffed because of budget cuts, which slowed their agency’s response to the shootings.

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