The FDNY must help its marshals


My husband, Fire Marshal Ronald Bucca, was killed on the 78th floor of Tower 2 on Sept. 11. I mourn his loss, and my grief is intensified as the anniversary of that horrible day approaches. But my grief is intensified because I know that the organization Ron worked for and loved, the Bureau of Fire Investigation, is in desperate need of support from the city.

Marshals are among the most highly trained people in the Fire Department. They are FDNY's law enforcement team and the liaisons to other agencies.

As a marshal, Ron investigated accidental and arson fires, made arrests, served subpoenas, testified as an expert witness in court, provided special security details, closed illegal social clubs and gathered data on products for consumer safety.

The assignment Ron loved best was serving on the FDNY's Terrorist Task Force. But the job lasted only a few short months before being eliminated by budget cuts. Last year, when it was so desperately needed, the FDNY had no such resource.

That's symptomatic of a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to the Fire Department and the Bureau of Fire Investigation. Four years ago, there were 212 marshals and 41 supervisors. Today, the numbers are 151 and 35. On any given night, there is barely enough manpower to provide three men and a car in each borough. Staten Island does not even have its own fire marshal base.

There is no longer a Social Club Task Force to investigate and close dangerous and illegal clubs.

There is only one part-time marshal and part-time supervisor for a juvenile unit that once was staffed by six.

The radios lost on 9/11 have never been replaced. As it was, when Ron went into Tower 2 that day, the marshals had only one radio per team. He was never able to contact his fellow marshals.

The Bureau of Fire Investigation lost five cars that day. The cars that are left have not been decontaminated, and the bureau is being asked to return the replacements because of budgetary restrictions.

I've visited fire marshal bases and found crumbling ceilings, computers that don't work and furniture that consists of castoffs from other offices or whatever marshals bring in themselves. The building housing the Manhattan base was recently renovated - except for the marshals' office.

If all this is so demoralizing to me, I can't imagine what the marshals must feel. Here they are, a unique and essential part of one of the premier fire departments in the world, yet they don't have the everyday essentials they need to do their jobs.

I know Ron would never have left the people he was with on the 78th floor, but so many others might have been saved if there had been terrorist-incident awareness training, proper radios and good interdepartment communications. This was an attack Ron foretold after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, something he unsuccessfully tried to persuade the department to train its members for.

Nothing will bring Ron back, but if our leaders truly want to respect the job that was so important to him, they will end their shoddy treatment of one of the first lines of defense against future terrorist attacks.

Bucca is a registered nurse.