• Sentencing in New York Fire, Ambush Case

    Eight years in prison for woman who bought firearms for gunman in fatal ambush
    A house burns Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 in Webster, New York. A former convict set a house and car ablaze in his lakeside New York state neighborhood to lure firefighters then opened fire on them, killing two and engaging police in a shootout before killing himself while several homes burned. Authorities used an armored vehicle to evacuate the area. (AP Photo/Democrat & Chronicle, Jamie Germano)
    Published Wednesday, September 17, 2014

    ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — A New York woman was sentenced to eight years in federal prison Wednesday for supplying guns to a former neighbor who used them to kill his sister and two firefighters in a Christmas Eve ambush that also caused seven homes to burn to the ground.

    FRM/FFN Webster Fire, Ambush Coverage

    Dawn Nguyen, 25, pleaded guilty in June to three felonies, including supplying guns to a known felon. Before her sentencing, she apologized to firefighters and others in the courtroom and asked for forgiveness.

    The sentence is much harsher than the eight- to 14-month prison term suggested by federal sentencing guidelines.

    U.S. Magistrate David Larimer said it was justified because Nguyen knew that William Spengler, 62, had served time in prison for bludgeoning his grandmother to death with a hammer in 1981 and had said he would kill again.

    "You know someone was involved in the death of their grandmother. That alone should raise not one but 100 red flags," Larimer said in the courtroom crowded with members of the slain firefighters' West Webster Fire Department and other first responders. "Maybe this is not the kind of person you want to provide with guns."

    Prosecutors said Nguyen accepted $1,000 from Spengler to go with him to a Gander Mountain store in June 2010 and buy a semi-automatic rifle and pistol-grip shotgun, lying on a form that they were for her.

    More than two years later, the weapons were found Dec. 24, 2012, near Spengler's body following the ambush that killed volunteer firefighters Tomasz Kaczowka and Michael Chiapperini. Spengler committed suicide.

    Nguyen's attorney, Matthew Parrinello, said Nguyen believed Spengler wanted the weapons for hunting and could not have predicted what he would do.

    "This was a quirky, weird, crazy neighbor that she knew, but he was nice and kind and he did things for her family," Parrinello, said. "He never gave her any indication prior to her purchasing the weapons that he was going to do anything violent."

    Nguyen, who was a college student at the time, turned around to address the firefighters before hearing her sentence, telling them she is haunted by what happened.

    "I'm so, so sorry," she said to the group, which included Theodore Scardino and Joseph Hofstetter, who were wounded by Spengler as they responded to the home he shared with his 67-year-old sister, Cheryl. "I'm sorry for the people whose lives have been affected."

    Because of the gunfire, firefighters could not extinguish the fire, leaving it to spread and destroy six additional homes in the Lake Ontario community. Cheryl Spengler's body was found in the ashes. She had been shot in the head.

    Nguyen's federal prison sentence will run concurrent with a 1 1/3- to 4-year sentence she began serving earlier this year on related state charges.

    "There is nothing that happened in court here today that will bring back the deceased firefighters who died trying to save the community on Christmas Eve, nor relieve the pain that the families will continue to suffer, not only every holiday season, but day in and day out as they continue to live with the consequences that this defendant, Dawn Nguyen, started in 2010," U.S. Attorney William Hochul said outside the courthouse, where he had sought a 10-year sentence.

    West Webster Fire Department spokesman Al Sienkiewicz was unmoved by Nguyen's apology.

    "You're at that point in time when you say whatever you can say to save yourself," he said.

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    FDNY Tests Firefighter, Radio Tracking System

    U.S. Navy Research Laboratory and FDNY work on project to track firefighters better
    Fire Department New York uses a U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) system to automatically track firefighters. "That's the intention with this device, to make sure everyone's accounted for," says David DeRieux, one of the inventors. Left: NRL worked with firefighters to determine where to add the RFID pocket. Right: The truck's onboard computer displays a table of who, based on their unique RFID tags, is nearby. (U.S. Naval Research Laboratory photo)
    Published Monday, September 15, 2014

    On 15 of its vehicles, Fire Department New York (FDNY) now can automatically see which firefighters are nearby from the onboard computer, and relay that information to the city's Operations Center. The system was invented by David DeRieux of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) Space Systems, along with Michael Manning of Manning RF, and in close partnership with FDNY.

    Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, New York City has been pursuing ways to better coordinate the 14,000 firefighters and emergency response it employs. (Prior to 9/11, the FDNY used a paper/carbon-copy ride list--Battalion Form 4 (BF4)--to account for who's present.)

    NRL's system is based on an active radio frequency identifier (RFID) tag carried by each firefighter, similar to E-ZPass or how retail tracks inventory. "It's in a little sealed plastic--it looks like a little key fob, actually," says George Arthur, an NRL engineer who contributed to the project. "They're positioned over the left breast, inside the bunker coat in a little Kevlar pocket that's sewn in there. And it just sends out a little ping every five seconds: here I am, here I am, here I am."

    A radio receiver on the vehicle picks up the pings and builds a table of identifiers. "It just listens and says, 'Okay, 1234, that's Jessica Smith,' so we know Jessica Smith is nearby," says DeRieux. "Periodically, a program that's running on their MDT [mobile data terminal], their onboard computer, quizzes this reader and says, 'Let me have everything.'"

    The table of every firefighter on or near the vehicle is displayed on the MDT screen. "As soon as [the driver] turns the ignition on," says DeRieux, "this thing comes up. When they get on the scene, everyone takes off, they all disappear. Then eventually they come back for a roll call situation, and the captain can tell instantly everyone is within so many feet of the truck."

    The MDT also sends this accounting to the FDNY Operations Center in Brooklyn, using a commercial modem. "They actually have a massive display, twice the size of my wall," says DeRieux, "and on there this data gets projected. So they know what truck just showed up on scene, who was on the truck." To coordinate personnel during a city-wide disaster, this real-time information would be unimaginably valuable. "During 9/11 there were thousands of firefighters, it was a big problem," says DeRieux.

    The data is also archived. "If there were a HAZMAT release," says Arthur, "they could go back and immediately see the firefighters that were on duty."

    On April 23rd, the Federal Laboratory Consortium awarded NRL for Excellence in Technology Transfer. "Technology transfer is very important," says Arthur. "Doing things here [at NRL] that are beneficial, not just to the warfighter, but also to the average citizen."

    Firefighters gave feedback to NRL throughout development

    NRL worked closely with FDNY throughout the years of development. "They gave us very good feedback," says Arthur. "They'd say, 'That's kind of what I want, but can you do this and can you change that?' They pretty much knew what they wanted and that was just all the difference in the world."

    They also had the opportunity to spend time in New York getting to know the firefighters and their needs, and see them in action. "They're an impressive bunch to talk to, very big-hearted," says Arthur. "There's one guy, Chief [of Logistics Ronald] Spadafora, who's got this thick Brooklyn accent, rides a Harley to work. Well he's got two Masters degrees, he flies all over the world [giving] lectures on fire science. He's written a couple books."

    The relationship started with a fortuitous meeting in 2002. "I recognized the guy next to me," says DeRieux. "Turns out, his name was [Battalion Chief] Joe Pfiefer." Pfiefer was the first chief to take command on 9/11. "[Pfiefer] brings me into his office and he says, 'We've got a problem. We need a way to keep track of our firefighters. Worse yet, some firefighters, who become dazed and confused during an operation, may not make it out of the building, or they end up in the wrong area for roll call.'"

    NRL's system was needed so the other truck would be able to automatically relay through the Operations Center, "He's over at Engine number whatever so he's all right," says DeRieux. "That's the intention with this device, to make sure everyone's accounted for."

    Working with FDNY led to an unexpected spin-off: the city liked the program's interface so much, they asked NRL to make a similar drag-and-drop program they could use to schedule personnel assignments. Says Arthur, "Now EBF4 is the standard scheduling tool New York City uses for their firefighters. NRL wrote it."

    NRL got "easy to use, reliable, and cheap" hardware from industry

    One of FDNY's primary requirements, says Arthur, was, "It has to be easy to use, reliable, and cheap."

    So DeRieux turned to Michael Manning, who had a private company already working on RFID, to provide the hardware for NRL's program. Says Arthur, "All the hardware came off the shelf; the secret sauce is the software. Anybody can go out and buy the RFID components, but if they don't have our program it's just a bunch of dumb computer parts."

    Using all off-the-shelf hardware kept costs low. "The readers cost around $1,100 a piece in the quantities we buy them, that might come down a bit," says Arthur. "The tags cost about $20 a piece."

    The tags are active RFID; so, unlike passive RFID, the batteries will run out in three to four years, depending on how often they're programmed to transmit. But active gives greater range and the ability to transmit more data. Says Arthur, "If you used the same amount of equipment, you could conceivably load it with the oxygen the guy had left, the temperature in the area."

    Is the future to track personnel moving inside a building?

    "We have given them the piece that lets them track from the vehicle to the fireground or the event," says Arthur. "If we could drop in a complementary piece, where we could track firefighters while they're in the building, that would save so many lives."

    "Indoor tracking," says DeRieux, "it's a very tough nut to crack."

    NRL's system is simply, "I detect a signal or I don't"--but an indoor system would need to pin a precise point in three-dimensional space. "I've always said down to six inches," says Arthur, "because that's the approximate width of a wall. You don't want to track a firefighter only to find yourself on the wrong side of a wall."

    The tracking systems Arthur's reviewed start at a known, fixed point, then uses sensors to estimate where you've gone. "Gyroscopes know which direction you're moving and there are movement sensors that estimate how fast you're moving. An altimeter tells whether you've gone up or down in the building."

    He adds, "But the problem is chaos." Say the system is accurate plus or minus an inch on each step. The firefighter's first step from the known point is accurate within an inch; but the second step is plus or minus an inch based on a guess that was also plus or minus an inch. "And the longer you're out walking around," says Arthur, "the more those inaccuracies compound."

    Additionally, the firefighters may be behind metal walls, they may be 100 floors up from a data receiver, and an altimeter may not give reliable data "because in a building that's on fire you're going to have all kinds of changes in air pressure."

    A separate avenue of research, particularly if NRL were to put a new system in another city or perhaps aboard a naval ship to track fire control teams, would focus on improving the hardware. "We started implementing this system in 2007," says Arthur, "and everything's come a long ways since then." Today, there are passive RFID tags that, unlike FDNY's system, can last indefinitely. They're also ruggedized and wouldn't have to be removed before laundering.

    Be it for U.S. Marines or firefighters, for talking to spacecraft or talking to Brooklyn, NRL is a place where engineers solve problems. Says Arthur, "I'm kind of a nuts and bolts guy. I'm an engineer who can change a tire. I like to fix things, take things apart."

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    FDNY Honors the 343

    New Yorkers Struggle with Effects of 9/11

    Thousands continue to struggle with effects of terror attack many years later
    Firefighter Tom Engel with Ladder 133 plays Taps at the end of memorial observances on the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014. Family and friends of those who died read the names of the nearly 3,000 people killed in New York, at the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/The Daily News, Robert Sabo, Pool)
    Published Friday, September 12, 2014

    NEW YORK (AP) — The roar of a plane above Lower Manhattan. The rise of a pristine tower where ruins once smoldered. News of terrorist attacks in far-off lands.

    For New Yorkers in or near the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, the sights and sounds of everyday life can still — even 13 years later — trigger painful memories.

    Thousands of people continue to struggle with the effects of 9/11. And they're coming forward for treatment in droves, seeking a way out of recurring nightmares, self-isolation and substance abuse through a nine-year-old program that's in danger of closing if Congress doesn't extend funding next fall.

    In the last year alone, more than 1,100 people have signed up for services through the city hospital system's World Trade Center Environmental Health Center for people who lived or worked within 1½ miles of ground zero. Nearly half the program's 7,735 patients enrolled in the past five years.

    "Even though it's 13 years later, we're really appreciating that there's a long wake and legacy of the World Trade Center disaster," said Dr. Nomi Levy-Carrick, the program's mental health director.

    FRM/FFN: Nation Pauses to Remember the Fallen

    About 60 percent of patients in the program show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression attributed to 9/11, administrators say, and about 40 percent have sought treatment for a mental health condition.

    The delayed enrollment is a byproduct of recent outreach efforts and the apparent reluctance of survivors to bring attention to their psychological trauma.

    "There was tremendous survivor guilt," Levy-Carrick said. "So people who survived didn't feel worthy of wanting to seek care. The fact that they had survived, they felt, should have been enough."

    She said people who tried moving on despite the lingering psychological effects of 9/11 realized they weren't getting better.

    Rebecca Lazinger's awakening came in 2010.

    The trauma of the attacks — her ears blowing out as American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the north tower, a man screaming seconds when he was crushed by falling debris, and the flood of Morgan Stanley co-workers evacuating as she lay in shock on a lobby floor — sapped her of emotion and turned the rest of her 20s into a "sludge" of eating, drinking and vague memories.

    Lazinger, now 36, would joke with friends that she was dead inside.

    "I didn't know what was going to happen to me, or if my life was going to be just one big fuzzy mess," Lazinger said.

    Finally, after fits and starts with private doctors and an outpatient psychiatric clinic, she found the World Trade Center Environmental Health Center, where she entered therapy and started taking medication to mitigate her symptoms.

    She had cried over 9/11 a handful of times in private. The first time she cried in front of another person came a few minutes into her first session with one of the center's social workers.

    "That was an enormous breakthrough for me," Lazinger said. "It was like, I'm home. Like I'm in a place that understands me, and that can help me."

    The treatment program, funded through the federal James L. Zadroga 9/11 Compensation Act, carries no out-of-pocket costs and is available regardless of insurance or immigration status. The act's funding component for health services is scheduled to expire in October 2015.

    A group of New York legislators said this week they would introduce bills in the House and the Senate to extend funding for another 25 years.

    Just one more year of treatment, Lazinger said, isn't enough.

    "I can't be the only one like this," she said. "There are more people that would just be crumbling again. This is saving my life right now."

    ___

    Online:

    New York City Health and Hospitals http://www.nyc.gov/html/hhc/html/home/home.shtml

    ___

    To enroll in the New York City program, call 1-888-982-4748

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    Sons Follow in FDNY Father’s Footsteps
  • FDNY Adds More to List of Fallen from WTC Illnesses

    Officers, firefighters, medics and a fire marshal are added to memorial
    Fire Department City of New York Published Thursday, September 11, 2014

    NEW YORK - The FDNY added 13 names to the World Trade Center Memorial Wall on Sept. 4, the members died from illnesses related to their work at the World Trade Center site.

    Their names join the 76 already on the Wall, which was unveiled in September 2011.

    "These men and women were our mentors, our colleagues and friends," Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. "Each served with the utmost pride and distinction."

    The added names included:

    Battalion Chief Richard D. Arazosa, Battalion 19
    Battalion Chief Thomas R. Van Doran, Battalion 3

    Captain Peter J. Casey, Engine 212
    Lieutenant Steven B. Reisman, Engine 307
    Lieutenant Thomas J. Greaney, Ladder 175

    Firefighter Keith E. Atlas, Engine 35
    Firefighter Walter Torres, Engine 328
    Firefighter William H. Quick, Ladder 134
    Firefighter Willie T. Franklin, Jr., Engine 65

    Paramedic Rudolph T. Havelka, EMS Bureau of Training
    Paramedic John W. Wyatt, Jr., EMS Station 22
    EMT Francis A. Charles, EMS Station 58

    Supervising Fire Marshal Emil K. Harnischfeger, Bureau of Fire Investigation

    Family members placed white roses at the base of the wall as their loved ones’ names were read.

    "Today we honor the service of these members and the sacrifices of their families," Chief of Department Edward Kilduff said. "They are important to the legacy of the FDNY."

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    Family members left roses at the Memorial Wall as their loved ones’ names were read. (FDNY photo)
    Numerous FDNY members and families attended the annual ceremony at FDNY Headquarters. (FDNY photo)


    NYC September 11 Commemoration

    Nation Pauses to Remember the Fallen

    Solemn ceremonies and changes as the country mourns those killed in Sept. 11 attack
    A firefighter at Engine Company 10 and Ladder Company 10 puts on his gear as a call comes into his firehouse adjacent to the World Trade Center, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014 in New York. Three hundred forty three New York firefighters were killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
    Published Thursday, September 11, 2014

    NEW YORK (AP) — A solemn reading of the names. Moments of silence to mark the precise times of tragedy. Stifled sobs of those still mourning.

    As the nation pauses Thursday to mark the thirteenth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack, little about the annual ceremony at ground zero has changed. But so much around it has.

    FRM/FFN: FDNY Adds More to List of Fallen from WTC Illnesses

    For the first time, the National September 11 Museum — which includes gut-wrenching artifacts and graphic photos of the attacks — will be open on the anniversary. Fences around the memorial plaza have come down, integrating the sacred site more fully with the streets of Manhattan while completely opening it up to the public and camera-wielding tourists.

    A new mayor is in office, Bill de Blasio, one far less linked to the attacks and their aftermath than his immediate predecessors. And finally, a nearly completed One World Trade Center has risen 1,776 feet above ground zero and will be filled with office workers by this date in 2015, another sign that a page in the city's history may be turning.

    For some who lost loved ones in the attacks, the increasing feel of a return to normalcy in the area threatens to obscure the tragedy that took place there and interfere with their grief.

    "Instead of a quiet place of reflection, it's where kids are running around," said Nancy Nee, whose firefighter brother, George Cain, was killed in the attacks. "Some people forget this is a cemetery. I would never go to the Holocaust museum and take a selfie."

    But for others, the changes are an important part of the healing process.

    "When I first saw (One World Trade Center), it really made my heart sing," said Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles Burlingame was the pilot of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. "It does every time I see it because it's so symbolic of what the country went through."

    "I want to see it bustling," she said. "I want to see more housing down there; I want to see it alive and bursting with businesses."

    As happens annually, family members of those killed in the attacks will gather Thursday morning to read the names of the deceased, pausing the sad roll call only four times: to mark the times when the first plane struck the World Trade Center, when the second plane struck, when the first tower fell and when the second tower fell.

    The memorial plaza will be closed to the public for most of the day and available only to family members. It will reopen at 6 p.m., at which point thousands of New Yorkers are expected to mark the anniversary at the twin reflecting pools where the towers once stood.

    In May, when the museum opened in a ceremony attended by President Barack Obama, the fences that had surrounded the plaza for years disappeared, as did the need for visitors to obtain a timed ticket. Now, thousands of people freely visit every day, from cellphone-toting travelers to workers on a lunch break, and those crowds will only swell further this year when One World Trade Center finally opens.

    "The memorial and museum is extremely important to those impacted on 9/11," said Mary Fetchet, whose son died in the attacks. "And surrounding that memorial, lower Manhattan has been revitalized."

    The first ceremony at the site was held six months after the Twin Towers fell and was organized by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his aides. Bloomberg, who took office just three months after the attacks, remained in charge, acting as the master of ceremonies for the next decade.

    After other elected officials attempted to gain a larger role at the solemn event, in 2012, all politicians — including Bloomberg — were prohibited from speaking at the event. That remains the case now, as de Blasio, who took office in January, agreed to let the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation organize the commemoration ceremony. Bloomberg is the foundation's chairman.

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