Guiliani order incites brawl
NEW YORK (AP) – Hundreds of firefighters marched to ground zero and City Hall on Friday, some scuffling with police, in an emotional protest over Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s decision to scale back the number of workers searching for remains.
Eleven firefighters and a union official were arrested.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said the high number of workers digging amid heavy equipment had become increasingly dangerous. The new policy limits to 25 the number of firefighters working at the site.
”We were given very, very strong advice that this site was a disaster waiting to happen,” Giuliani said after the rally. ”Our concern has to be for the lives of the people who are working there now.”
Firefighters say comrades are buried in the rubble and they want enough firefighters on the scene to be able to recover the remains and treat them with dignity.
Yesterday’s scene was a sharp change from the mood of unity and cooperation that the city had seen since Sept. 11, with police and firefighters working shoulder to shoulder and everyone rallying around Giuliani and the police and fire commissioners.
”There’s no question that emotions are very, very high,” Giuliani said. ”But the kind of conduct displayed today is unprofessional.”
Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen said he recognized people were ”very distraught.”
”Maybe these are not the people who have the ability to detach themselves from the situation,” he said.
Later yesterday, firefighter union officials said the mayor and police and fire commissioners had not handled the situation well.
”They are lying when they say firefighters attacked the police,” said Capt. Peter Gorman, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. ”Was there struggling and scuffling and some name callingâ¢ Absolutely. The police superior officers were arresting people for no reason.”
At ground zero, the crowd held a moment of silence and recited the Lord’s prayer. A firefighters union president stood atop a muddy bulldozer decorated with an American flag.
”Let’s bring our brothers back to our families, where they should be,” said Kevin Gallagher of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which sponsored the protest.
The protesters then marched a few blocks to City Hall, where police in riot gear and officers on horseback stood by.
Five police officers were injured, Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said. The 12 people arrested were charged with inciting to riot, assault, criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, and obstructing governmental administration.
”I’d like to apologize on behalf of the fire department to those five police officers,” Essen said.
Firefighter Bob McGuire, whose nephew Richard Allen is missing in the rubble, asserted that remains had been loaded into trash bins in the past two days. ”I don’t want him to end up in a Dumpster,” McGuire said.
McGuire denied speculation that firefighters wanted to stay at the site to pad their checks. ”This has nothing to do with overtime,” he said.
Tony Loret, a firefighter at Engine Co. 247, agreed: ”It’s definitely not about overtime. We’re talking about dignity here.”
Many firefighters demanded that Von Essen resign over the new policy. The two unions in April gave Von Essen no-confidence votes. They have accused him of a dictatorial style that has destroyed morale, and believe he has not stuck up for the rank-and-file.