FDNY Still Drawing Attention

Associated Press Writer


There are action figures and T-shirts, movie proposals and book deals. News organizations throughout the world -- from TV shows in Japan to newspapers in Brazil -- still call seeking interviews.

Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of the Fire Department of New York.

Eight months after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the department still fields hundreds of requests every week from the media and the public. And as some firefighters have stepped into the limelight, others are growing weary of the attention.

"Sadly it will always be the topic in the news, and sadly that's what we'll be here for,'' said David Billig, the fire department press secretary. "Now we're here to talk about Sept. 11.''

Spike Lee is working on a movie about the attack, and HBO plans to release a documentary on Memorial Day. Charities want firefighters to appear at fund-raisers, and churches want to sing for rescue workers still digging at ground zero.

It's hard to walk down a street in Manhattan without seeing someone wearing something with "FDNY'' embroidered on it -- hats, T-shirts, jackets.

"It's getting to be you can't tell who works for the fire department and who doesn't,'' Billig said.

Some of the paraphernalia is authorized by the department _ like the action figure that benefits fire safety programs _ but the department's press and legal offices have had to wage a months-long battle against counterfeit knock-offs.

The attention from a tragedy many are still coming to terms with has been difficult for some. Firefighter John Morabito, assigned to Engine 10 near the trade center, has become an unofficial spokesman for his company. He talks to the press and the public so his co-workers don't have to.

"A lot of these guys,'' Morabito said, "are uncomfortable talking about it.''

Others aren't so shy. Two firefighters have written their own accounts of the day the towers collapsed.

In "Last Man Down'' (Berkley Books), Battalion Chief Richard Picciotto writes about his escape from the north tower. Like many firefighters, Picciotto said, he is still trying "to understand what we'd been through.''

The department's press office has doubled its staff of five to handle media inquiries, news conferences and a task its members could never have envisioned -- writing hundreds of eulogies.

In a back room are eight cardboard boxes containing 343 files -- one for each firefighter killed on Sept. 11.

"We're carrying on the memories of 343 great people who were just doing their jobs,'' Billig said. "Every single day, seven days a week, we talk about Sept. 11, we live it every single day.

"And you know what? Maybe that's not the worst thing in the world.''