Fire commissioner suggests more use of veteran officers

Nicholas Scoppetta appears at Rotary meeting

Wednesday, August 14, 2002


Touching briefly on the restructuring of the Fire Department's top officials and plans for improvements to its communications systems, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta yesterday addressed the Staten Island Rotary Club.

"We can make better use of our longest-tenured officers," Scoppetta told about 60 Rotarians and guests during a luncheon meeting in the Staaten, West Brighton.

"The department has got a lot of very experienced people."

Scoppetta pointed to the appointment of Assistant Chief John Casey of Pleasant Plains, a 35-year Fire Department veteran, as borough commander for the Island.

The new commander positions replace a system where chiefs used to work a 24-hour shift as a citywide tour commander, monitoring fire and emergency operations throughout the five boroughs, and then go off duty for three days.

Instead, Casey and the other borough commanders will have a regular five-day work week, with one 24-hour shift every two weeks.

And although the department has seen an accelerated rate of retirement among its firefighters -- 681 to date since Sept. 11 -- the number of new firefighters will reach 1,200 by next month.

Citywide fire statistics for this year also seemed promising, as Scoppetta cited a 7-percent reduction in building fires and an 11-percent decline in malicious false alarms.

Referencing a soon-to-be-released report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., Scoppetta spoke about field testing on Staten Island of the revamped UHF frequency hand-held Motorola digital radios, beginning Aug. 26.

"Hand-held radios in high-rise buildings are never going to perform 100 percent," said Scoppetta. He stressed the need for installation of repeater devices, like those used by the Police Department to boost signal reception in tall buildings.

"We will need to do something [to communicate] better than we do now in high-rise buildings," he said.

Use of a previous version of the Motorola system proved disastrous during the attacks on the World Trade Center, when many firefighters failed to hear a senior fire chief's order to evacuate Tower 1, 27 minutes before Tower 2 collapsed and 56 minutes before the collapse of Tower 1.

In all, 343 firefighters, including 78 Staten Islanders and 12 former Islanders, perished in the attacks.

Also attending yesterday's luncheon were Assistant Chief Anthony Marra, Fire Chief Sal Cassano, Deputy Borough President Daniel M. Donovan Jr. and Mary Albanese, representing state Sen. Vincent Gentile.