Poll: FDNY Retirement Crisis Looms

Copyright 2002 Newsday, Inc.
Newsday (New York, NY)...08/29/2002

By Graham Rayman. STAFF WRITER

One out of every two members of the Fire Department's upper ranks said they either will retire or are considering retirement in the next 12 months, according to a poll conducted by the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.

A total of 884 fire officers with 20 or more years of experience responded to the survey completed last week, with 360 indicating they will retire within a year. Another 108 indicated they may retire within the year, for a total of 468 - or 52.9 percent, the survey said.

The union represents the Fire Department's uniformed leadership - lieutenants, captains and chiefs. "This illustrates that our most experienced and senior guys are leaving in droves," said Capt. John Dunne, who represents captains in the union. "Retention is the biggest problem the department faces."

Dunne said retirements are up 30 percent among UFOA members this year over last year, and the rate is expected to increase in the fall.

He said the union is backing a bill in the state Legislature that would allow pensions to be based on 2001 earnings, which were boosted by post-Sept. 11 overtime. Under current rules, the amount of the pension is based on an officer's final-year salary.

"It is a no-cost bill to the city," Dunne said.

Edward Skyler, Bloomberg's press secretary, said the mayor has already backed two other retention bills, after consulting the fire unions.

One bill, recently signed into law, allowed firefighters and police officers who stay on after 20 years to keep receiving pension fund money until they retire. A second, also signed into law, eliminated the pension cap for firefighters with 30 years or more of experience, Skyler said.

"We will continue to work with the fire commissioner and the unions to retain members, but we are constrained by the city's fiscal crisis," Skyler said.

But Dunne maintained the two laws still do not provide enough incentive to slow the retirement trend.

Meanwhile, the Fire Department will begin field-tests of hundreds of new fire radios on Staten Island on Sept. 3, rather than this week as planned.

Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said last week that the program would begin Aug. 26. Chief William Van Wart, a Fire Department spokesman, said the department wanted to make certain there were an adequate number of reserve radios in the borough beforehand. Fire officials have been conducting tests in high-rise buildings for the past month.