Surge in FDNY Retirements Begins

Copyright 2002 Newsday, Inc.
Newsday (New York, NY)...03/28/2002

By William Murphy; STAFF WRITER

The first wave of departures in the wake of the World Trade Center attack has hit the Fire Department, with 63 firefighters and supervisors requesting retirement last week.

A department order dated March 22 listed one battalion chief, nine captains, 13 lieutenants, one fire marshal and 39 firefighters.

"In my 33 years on the job I've never seen a department order with this many retirements," said Lt. Stephen Carbone, recording secretary of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.

Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said the department is averaging about 40 retirement applications a week rather than the usual 40 a month and has gotten 500 applications since Jan. 1.

Carbone and other union officials said the surge in retirements is due in part to higher pensions from extensive overtime in the past six months.

It also is due, they said, to pressure from the families of firefighters who do not want them to continue in a line of work that cost 343 firefighters their lives in one day.

Another factor, more difficult to assess, is that some firefighters simply have worn down and become dispirited after the loss of so many comrades, according to some union officials.

"The money from the pension tells them they have to go - that and the families," Carbone said.

Figures compiled by the union show that 61 officers attended seminars in January for officers who definitely are retiring. That compares with 21 in January 2001 and 11 in January 2000.

There were similar increases in February, when 44 attended, compared with 21 last year. And 70 retiring officers have attended seminars so far this month, more than triple the 23 who attended in 2001, union statistics show.

Officials of the officers' union and the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which represents the rank and file, have been trying to win changes from the state Legislature that would allow firefighters to lock in their higher pensions from overtime and not retire immediately.

That, the unions argue, would allow firefighters and officers to stay on the job by allowing them to base their pensions on any period of 12 consecutive months instead of their last 12 months on the job.

"I hope the legislature moves quickly. These guys don't want to stay around and see the value of their pension drop," said Thomas DaParma, Queens trustee of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

Scoppetta said he is particularly concerned that the department had lost so many superior officers on Sept. 11 and now is losing so many to retirement. He repeated what has become almost a slogan for him: The department lost a combined 4,400 years of experience at the trade center.

"We could get 10 more years (service) out of a lot of officers if they could protect that pension," the commissioner said. "This is very serious for us."

At the time of the trade center attack, about 11 percent of the city's 8,500 firefighters and 55 percent of its 2,325 officers had 20 years on the job and could retire at half pay.

Of the 63 firefighters who applied last week, 18 were seeking disability pensions that would entitle them to a tax-free pension equal to three-quarters of their pay. It was not known if the disabilities were connected to the trade center disaster.