FDNY Faces New 9/11 Probe
Agency could issue subpoenas

By William Murphy

November 14, 2003

More than two years after the attack on the World Trade Center, city firefighters have been told they may have to relive that day again - under subpoena if necessary - in yet another investigation.

Fire union officials say they can see no benefit in the planned interviews by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal agency that is looking into technical issues surrounding the collapse of the towers.

The Fire Department instructed firefighters last month that it would be up to them to decide whether to be interviewed, but noted that NIST "may decide to subpoena any member who chooses not to be interviewed."

The head of the firefighters union said in an interview earlier this week that he could not see how the testimony of firefighters could help two years after the incident. And he worried that firefighters who lost 343 comrades in the collapse would once again have to dredge up memories of that day.

"I'm concerned about the emotional impact on firefighters," said Stephen Cassidy, president of the 8,500-member Uniformed Firefighters Association. "Our members are not going to be able to give any real information that could help."

Officials at the federal agency, a branch of the Commerce Department, said yesterday that they did not anticipate subpoenas would be necessary but refused to rule them out.

"We are not a fault-finding agency," spokesman Michael Newman said. "We hope to make strong recommendations to change building code practices and procedures."

Newman said the agency, much like the National Transportation Safety Board, relies more on cooperation than subpoena power to gather information.

Nonetheless, he said, the agency reserved the right to compel testimony "if it's extremely critical to our investigation."

Both Cassidy and Peter Gorman, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, questioned why it was taking so long to get the probe off the ground.

The federal agency said it had not gotten a congressional mandate to proceed on the investigation until August of last year and had spent the last year on procedural matters and technical work.

The agency is committed to moving quickly and plans to have a draft report ready by September, Newman said yesterday.