Copyright 2002 Daily News, L.P.
Daily News (New York)...01/01/2002

The Fire Department has banned fire companies from rushing to Ground Zero to carry out the remains of their firehouse brethren, the Daily News has learned.

The move has devastated firefighters - some of whom learned about the new policy last week when they were turned away from escorting the body of a colleague from Ground Zero. That firefighter, John Schardt, was buried yesterday.

"Carrying out our brothers is part of the healing process," said Matty James, the Brooklyn trustee for the Uniformed Firefighters Association. "To bring our own guys out is worth more than all the counseling in the world."

But fire officials said the practice leaves firehouses unattended, and can lead to additional heartbreak in cases where bodies are initially misidentified.

"We realize carrying their own members out has always been an FDNY tradition," said Fire Department spokesman Frank Gribbon. "But never had we had these extraordinary circumstances."

Before the order was given last week by FDNY Chief of Operations Sal Cassano, firefighters had their own unofficial procedure for escorting the remains of their fellow Bravest from Ground Zero.

One of the firefighters working at Ground Zero would make an anonymous call to a firehouse whenever remains or gear from a member of that company was found.

Firefighters from the company would go out of service and head to Ground Zero, where they would carry the flag-draped body past an honor guard of recovery workers, who would remove their helmets and say the Lord's Prayer.

The men of Engine Co. 201 in Brooklyn learned of the new policy the day after Christmas, when a caller reported that a piece of bunker gear belonging to Schardt had been found.

The five members working in Engine 201 that morning began heading to Ground Zero. But when they called the dispatcher en route, they were told to return to their Sunset Park firehouse.

"The guys were emotionally shattered," James said.

Hundreds attended yesterday's funeral for Schardt, who would have turned 35 tomorrow.

The Fire Department and firefighters have clashed over the recovery effort before: In November, firefighters fought with cops at Ground Zero after the city reduced FDNY ranks at the site. Officials later boosted the number.

Gribbon said the latest move was an effort to "maintain a level of control" and prevent misidentifications.

But for firefighters, the issue is emotional. "It really helps for us to carry our men out," said a Brooklyn firefighter from another firehouse prevented from going to Ground Zero last week.

"They just built a platform there for tourists to view the site. We just want to claim our own bodies - why wouldn't the Fire Department want us to do that? We need to be able to take care of our own."