Blame Rudy for ills

Fire union: Sick leave linked to 9/11 fallout


The firefighters union blamed its skyrocketing sick leave yesterday on former Mayor Rudy Giuliani - charging he and his fire commissioner "knowingly" sent firefighters into Ground Zero without proper safety equipment.

The union also accused Mayor Bloomberg of exploiting the sick leave rate to reduce crews at engine companies throughout the city.

"It was a well-known fact that firefighters were down there without respirators," Uniformed Firefighters Association lawyer Bob Sullivan told Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice James Starkey. "That might not be a popular thing to say ... but how can Mayor Giuliani make sure the police have [breathing masks] and the firefighters don't?"

A contract provision allows the city to reduce staffing at engine companies to four firefighters from five if sick leave exceeds 7.5%.

Starkey is weighing a request by the union for an injunction against the city to block the cutbacks.

Outside court, Sullivan stepped up his attack on Giuliani, former Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen and Bloomberg.

"[Giuliani] knowingly sent those men in and knew the risks," he said. "It's shameful. And the [Bloomberg] administration is saying they can use this. Shame on them both."

The city's lawyers did not specifically address the union's charges in court that cops were better protected against Ground Zero fumes and dust.

They argued that the cause of the high sick rate by firefighters is irrelevant.

"We are here to enforce the contract, and [the union] wants to break the contract," said city lawyer William Fraenkel.

At City Hall, Bloomberg denied he was taking advantage of ailing firefighters to achieve cost savings.

But, on the issue of firefighters sent to Ground Zero without breathing masks, the mayor was less certain.

"I just don't know what respirators were provided," he said. "I do remember that there were a number of attempts to make sure that anybody that worked at the site - whether they are firefighters, police officers or private contractors - had masks on. Whether they needed full respirator gear I just am not able to say."

A spokeswoman for Giuliani and Von Essen had no immediate comment on the union's allegations.

The judge adjourned the case until Monday. City officials plan to make the staff cuts Thursday.

With Michael Saul

Originally published on December 27, 2002