NY Post - December 24, 2008by STEVE CASSIDY - President of the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York
And now, Mayor Bloomberg needs to act on it.
The 16-month investigation ended with the indictments of three construction supervisors who oversaw the contaminated building's demolition - highlighting many failures that led to the deaths of firefighters Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino. But the report states that, whatever the failures of other agencies and/or criminal activities of contractors responsible for abatement and deconstruction of this toxic tower, the New York City Fire Department had the ultimate responsibility to ensure that firefighters could operate safely in the building.
It absolutely failed to do so.
District Attorney Robert Morgenthau went to great lengths to highlight the failures of Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta and then-chief of operations and now Chief of Department Sal Cassano, naming them repeatedly (if only by title).
The DA showed that the FDNY leadership knowingly acted to throw three other fine fire officers under a bus, by blaming them for failures to inspect the Deutsche Bank building. Morgenthau reported that the FDNY leadership did this with full knowledge that it was its own failures that sent hundreds of firefighters into this toxic high-rise building with no water to fight the fire and virtually no way out.
What's more, the DA determined that, as early as February 2005, a critical FDNY memo containing recommendations for an emergency firefighting operations plan for the building was sent to the then-FDNY chief of operations. The chief failed to act and, as a result, there was no fire-operations plan in place the day firefighters Beddia and Graffagnino died.
The DA also found that just three months before the fatal fire, Scoppetta himself responded, visiting Engine 10 and Ladder 10 after a 15-foot length of pipe fell from the Deutsche Bank building, crashing through the roof of the firehouse. The report details that the fire commissioner, accompanied by senior staff, ascended to the roof of the firehouse to assess the damage.
An event that drew the fire commissioner to the scene of the Deutsche Bank building was a golden opportunity to right all of the department's previous failures, but instead, the DA found that Scoppetta and his staff took no action.
"Time and again the fire department missed opportunities to uncover the dangerous conditions at the Deutsche Bank building," Morgenthau said.
Now, after more than 16 months of waiting for a conclusion to this report, the roles of the fire commissioner and the current chief of department are raising many questions about their ability to lead the FDNY.
They hid their actions before the fatal Deutsche Bank fire and never brought them up during the FDNY's own internal investigation. If not for the grand jury and the DA's investigation, no one would have known that these failures existed at the very top of the fire department.
The willingness of Scoppetta and Cassano to blame others for their own failures shows a lack of integrity and an abdication of the right to command others. It is clear that rank-and-file firefighters have lost confidence in the leadership of the department in light of the DA's findings.
The DA's report cries out for accountability. "Sovereign immunity" prevented him from taking further actions. Morgenthau has done his job. The ball is in the mayor's court.
Steve Cassidy is president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York, which represents 9,000 New York City firefighters.