FDNY AT PRE-9/11 NUMBERS

By STEPHANIE GASKELL

December 12, 2003 -- The FDNY is back at full strength.
For the first time since the World Trade Center attacks, the department has more firefighters than it did on Sept. 10, 2001, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said yesterday.

"It's just a great feeling to be back to where we should be," he said. "It's a big boost to morale."

The day before the terror attacks - which killed 343 of the city's Bravest - the department had 8,648 firefighters.

But after more than two years of recovering and rebuilding, the department is now 8,660 strong, counting the 303 entering the Fire Academy next week.

"It's a sense of being made whole again," Scoppetta said after a graduation ceremony in Brooklyn for 292 new firefighters.

"We had to do two things - make up for those who were lost and make up for those who retired," Scoppetta explained.

"We've been hiring almost as fast as we could."

The department has hired 2,475 new firefighters since 9/11, he said. "I'm really very happy that we've done it in less than two years," he said.

Scoppetta said it was not difficult for him to fill the ranks.

"People know now much more about the Fire Department and firefighters than they knew before 9/11," he said.

"They know about the bravery and the courage. They know that firefighters really live this job. They know what a remarkable group of people they are."

Mayor Bloomberg, who attended the graduation ceremony, said the new numbers send a strong message to terrorists around the world.

"Although we can never replace the 343 brave souls who were lost on 9/11, we have rebuilt the FDNY in their memory and sent a message to the terrorists that New Yorkers will never surrender," he said.

The graduating class, 28 percent minority, was one of the most diverse in recent years.

There were also four women - the most in any class in two decades.

The department has hired only nine women since 1982, when 41 women sued the then-all-male department claiming discrimination.

Firefighter Shkendi Demiri said she was proud to join the FDNY but said she doesn't want any special treatment.

"It was pretty hard," said the 28-year-old from Queens. "It's a lot more tough for women, I think, in general because it's predominantly male and you've got to get used to working with a bunch of men.

"You have to be very determined to do it," she said.

Tom Butler, a spokesman for the firefighters union, later issued a statement saying the FDNY still has a way to go to make up for the loss of experienced firefighters.

He noted that between the new graduates and the ones scheduled to begin training, there are now nearly 600 firefighters "who have never been in a burning building.

"You can't equal or calculate the thousands of years experience lost since 9/11," Butler said.




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