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Thread: New York City Facing Exodus of Firefighters

  1. #1
    Registered User SeaBreeze's Avatar
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    New York City Facing Exodus of Firefighters

    New York City Facing Exodus of Firefighters

    By AL BAKER


    Scores of New York City's Fire Department supervisors, including some of its most senior surviving commanders, have retired since Sept. 11, and hundreds more have notified their union that they expect to leave in the next year. At the same time, the department's front-line firefighters are retiring at more than double the usual rate, according to fire officials.

    The expected retirements, when combined with those commanders killed at the World Trade Center 11 months ago, mean that the department will soon have lost roughly one-quarter of its entire supervisory staff. The escalating exodus, department officials acknowledge, presents perhaps the greatest continuing challenge to a department emotionally and physically devastated by the terror attacks.

    An independent consultant's study of the department in the aftermath of Sept. 11, for instance, said that one of the department's urgent needs was to improve significantly its planning and training for dealing with major disasters, a requirement that would place a premium on the work of seasoned commanders.

    In the time between the attack on the World Trade Center and July 19, 213 members of the senior command, those in the rank of lieutenant and above, have left the job, a number roughly 60 percent greater than retired in the same period last year, according to Fire Department records and union officials.

    Daniel A. Nigro, the chief of department, who holds the highest-ranking uniformed position, announced this week that he would retire on Sept. 9 after a 33-year career. He will be joining two of the department's seven citywide tour commanders (two others were killed on Sept. 11). Also retiring is Albert Turi Jr., who was the department's chief of safety, and Michael Butler, the former chief of the Bureau of Fire Prevention. Those seven men together had nearly 250 years of experience.

    Fire officials said they had hired 1,200 new people and planned to hire more, from the several thousand candidates who had passed the firefighter test. But replacing the thousands of years of collective experience the mass exodus represents is another story, many officials say.

    Top department officials and union chiefs have cited various reasons for the fast pace of retirements. Many commanders and firefighters have chosen to leave for a powerful financial reason: the overtime they earned in the months since the disaster has raised their salaries and made their pensions more attractive. Others are emotionally or physically exhausted.

    But if the loss of the senior command is most pressing for the department, its officials acknowledge that they are also troubled because the rates of retirement among the roughly 8,500 rank and file members are running at least twice that of a year ago.

    And of late, the rate of departure has accelerated even more, with some 40 firefighters retiring every week on average. A year ago, 40 firefighters might have retired in a typical month.

    The Fire Department usually loses no more than 500 firefighters a year because of retirement, officials said. Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said last evening that while the high retirement numbers were alarming, he understood what was driving it.

    "I take it very seriously," he said of the issue. "We are going to lose a lot of very experienced people and I, frankly, regret that, especially now when we are about to embark on a whole set of new initiatives."

    According to the commissioner, 661 firefighters of all ranks filed retirement papers between January and July 26, compared with 274 who had retired in the same period last year. The department last night could not immediately break down the retirements among ranks, but Francis X. Gribbon, the department's chief spokesman, said he did not dispute the union's numbers. Of the retirement rates, Mr. Gribbon said: "It's more than twice for officers. It's more than twice for firefighters."

    Capt. Peter L. Gorman, who is the president of the 2,500-member Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said that a decision to retire was usually a family decision, a financial decision and a life decision. But after Sept. 11, he said, it become an emotional issue as well.

    "Normally, we say emotions should not drive retirement," he said. "But because of the enormity of this tragedy, most members brought this home to their family. The pressure on them is greatly accelerated."

    To try to keep commanders and firefighters on the force, the fire unions early this year backed two legislative proposals to allow members some retirement benefits while still on the job. One of those measures passed in Albany this year. It allows firefighters who have the 20 years necessary for retirement to bank annual payments (now at $9,500) that are usually doled out after retirement and stay on the job.

    But another, which would have allowed those officers to use their highest-earning year as the basis for their pension even if it was not their last year on the job, was abandoned as too costly.

    Like police officers, firefighters with more than 20 years on the job are entitled to a pension equal to half of what they earned in their last 12 months of employment. This year, many firefighters who typically earn about $65,000 a year have seen their salaries rise to $80,000 because of the additional overtime earned between September and May, officials said.

    The loss of the top commanders is one thing. But it is the loss of the lieutenants, captains and battalion chiefs

  2. #2
    Administrator Brian's Avatar
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    Disabled Firefighters also

    Not mentioned in that is the increased number of disabled firefighters being forced to leave.

    A lot of firefighters are on limited duty right now after working down at the WTC. Some have not gotten better, and it may only be a matter of time before a lot of other members start coming down with health problems.

    Only time will tell.

    There is mention about money being an issue. The city had a chance to stop this mass exit. a lot of FF's don't want to leave. They love this job.

    But it just does not make financial sense to stay. Over the past decade we've had low (and NO raises), leading us to make less than our neighboring departments. We've been without a contract for over 2 years now, with the city saying they can't afford to pay us more, even though they 'say' we deserve more.

    Pat's on the back, and 'attaboys' don't play well over a decade, especially after devastating loses. After all the accolades and recognition from the world, things are back to normal when it comes to the city's treatment of FDNY.

    All that was needed was a 'lock-in' of the best 12 months of service for our pensions. That would have kept the many members who really want to stay. We are dedicated, and want to stay, but we also don't want to have to work two jobs to support our families. Sorry. We've had an enlightened view of the importance of spending time with families, and needing to work a second job which takes time away from then is not worth it.

    So, instead, it may look like we are taking the money and running. While, all this time, the city has been keeping the money and laughing. The city doesn't care that the FDNY will have no experience left. They look at the $$$. The more that leave, the more they can hire at much lower rates.

    Even if they pass legistlation next month, it will be too late.

    Remember, we don't want to leave. But how do you tell your family that you need to stay, when it may cost you $15,000 a year for the rest of your life? Dedication only goes so far. Add in the hidden disrespect from the city, and the choice is simple.
    Brian Shea
    Co-Director of Fallen Brothers Foundation
    (foundation charity dissolved 2006)

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    Administrator Brian's Avatar
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    retirees as consultants

    Here's some possible Irony....

    What are the chances that the city ends up hiring these knowledgeable retired members as outside experts to help develop a strong department again?

    I can see it now costing much more in the long run. And how many lives are put at risk, all for the sake of a dollar?
    Brian Shea
    Co-Director of Fallen Brothers Foundation
    (foundation charity dissolved 2006)

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    Administrator Neil's Avatar
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    VALUE OF A BUCK

    AND THE DOLLAR AIN'T WORTH A PLUG NICKEL
    CANT EVEN A BUY A 5 CENT CANDY BAR.

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    Same all over...

    I know this is no consolation but it's the same thing all through the workforce. Management wants experience and knowledge in their ranks, but they don't want to pay for it. They reduce staffing levels in order to save money and improve their precious bottom line, then they complain because the staff that are left struggle to do the work of two or three people and inevitably end up with massive backlogs. Paid overtime? Not on your nellie - that would cost the company money, you know? And we can't have that, can we?

    Yep, I can certainly sympathise - and I don't blame those of you who decide they would rather work to live, not live to work.

  6. #6
    Administrator Brian's Avatar
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    Emily,

    I agree that everyone has similar issues with work. The only difference in this case is safety, and not of the employees, but of the whole city.

    Firefighters love their job, and they do it for the people. We care about the protection of the people. Anything that jeopardizes that is immoral, yet politicians will also say that is their number one concern, but once the words come out of their mouths, that about the end of their concern.

    Note, I'm not saying that they don't care. I'm just saying that they see the dollar as overpowering, and they take it for granted that the firefighters, due to their dedication, will get the job done no matter what.
    Brian Shea
    Co-Director of Fallen Brothers Foundation
    (foundation charity dissolved 2006)

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    I think it also has to do with jobs which are city paid through taxes. People want you there when they need you but all too often aren't willing to pay for it. They don't mind laying out the bucks for the luxuries though. I've always felt that police & firefighters were underpaid--no matter what their salary. You can't put a price on what they do, but to have to get second jobs is beyond ridiculous!

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