FDNY: Can't help sick '75 fire vets


Despite the worries of cancer victims, FDNY brass say they have no plans to help hundreds of retired firefighters who fought the toxic New York Telephone Co. fire of 1975.
"The Fire Department just doesn't have the resources to do that," a spokesman said. "There's not much more to say."

The Daily News asked to interview Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta about disproportionate numbers of cancers among men who fought the fire.

The commissioner was unavailable for comment.

Two weeks ago, former FDNY Commissioner Thomas Von Essen suggested the city should at least send warning letters to the FDNY veterans advising them to be tested for certain cancers.

However, even that appears unlikely.

The News reported that dozens of the 699 firefighters who who fought the 1975 fire are suffering from cancer. Experts see a connection to toxic byproducts of tons of polyvinyl chloride insulation incinerated in the blaze.

"It's a sad situation for the families," said state Assemblyman Peter Abate (D-Brooklyn), a longtime advocate for better firefighter cancer benefits.

"I'm very sympathetic to the men and the widows," Abbate said. "We are trying to remedy things to make sure this doesn't happen in the future."

Politics, however, he said, makes it "impossible to go back and do something for people who have retired already."

Since 1994, New York, like most states, presumes that many firefighter cancers are job-related.

But under New York law, that presumption ends at retirement - even though job-related cancers can take decades to surface.

Last year, Gov. Pataki vetoed a bill to broaden the list of cancers covered by the policy, citing costs. Abbate said he wants to investigate extending the period covered into the first several years of retirement.

"I happen to think the idea of extending the cancer presumption is a great idea," said Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steve Cassidy, who has reams of studies on cancers common to firefighters.

"Their argument always is there's a cost factor," Cassidy said.

"My answer to that is," he said, "certain things are either right or wrong."

Originally published on March 21, 2004