FDNY not ready, union boss says


If a biological or chemical terrorist attack struck New York, firefighters who respond are as good as dead, union officials charged yesterday.

Officials from the Uniformed Firefighters Association said the FDNY hasn't given its members the training or equipment to protect themselves - mirroring a complaint lodged by police union officials Wednesday.

"We'll be there, but we won't be able to save the public, or ourselves, from danger," union President Stephen Cassidy said.

"If there's a biological or chemical attack, they can be dead before a rescue or squad company shows up that have the haz-mat suits," said Jim Slevin, the union's vice president. "The federal government has to help ... because New York is the biggest terrorist target in the world."

The city has asked the federal government for $900 million to go to first responders, money to be used for hazardous materials equipment and overtime to conduct counterterrorism training, city officials said.

The Fire Department has asked for $275 million; the Police Department wants $261 million, and the Office of Emergency Management asked for $33 million. The rest of the $900 million would be doled out to city hospitals and the Health Department.

Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said firefighters have been given radiation detectors but added, "There is more that we want to do."

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said the Bush administration promised to commit $3.5 billion for first responder funding to be spread throughout the country - including New York - but has reneged on the pledge.

"The President is opposed to spending money on preparedness. It's like putting a Band-Aid - or, should I say, duct tape - on a shotgun wound," Nadler said. "The point is to avoid the shotgun wound."

"New York is the No. 1 target, and the President hasn't put the money into the pipeline," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). "It makes you wonder what the advice for duct tape and plastic is worth."

Many cops untrained

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said that only about half of the 28,000 patrol cops have received terrorism training, even as he pointed out that elite NYPD squads are among the best-trained in the world.

But that does little good for most patrol cops. Yesterday, for example, officers were sent to subways with air sensors that would detect cyanide, oxygen deficiencies and other airborne chemicals - but they were not given masks or other protective gear, said Drew Bailey, a police union official.

"If these cops go down," asked Bailey, "how are they going to help anybody?"

Originally published on February 14, 2003