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    Default FDNY COD possibly to loose civil service status.

    Famous Long ago.



    By MICHELLE O'DONNELL
    Published: April 16, 2006
    PETER E. HAYDEN, the chief of department of the New York Fire Department, walked alone down the steps of City Hall, his gold-piped white cap pulled low, his dress blue uniform crisp as a sailor's. One step onto Broadway, he fell into a sea of adulation, a mob of cheering firefighters roaring their approval on a bright day last May. It was hard to believe that six weeks earlier, some of the very same firefighters had denounced Chief Hayden's decision forbidding them to wear green berets in the St. Patrick's Day parade.

    This day, however, there was only gratitude for their tribe's leader, who, moments earlier, had fallen on his sword in a City Council hearing. There, Chief Hayden, the highest-ranking city official to challenge a mayor in at least a decade, said that the city's new emergency protocol signed by Mayor Bloomberg a month earlier was unsafe for residents and firefighters alike.

    In many respects, the day recalled an earlier, swashbuckling city and Fire Department, when the chief of department was a powerful figure, a brave and unencumbered truth teller who was expected to weigh in on matters of public safety. Over a century, chiefs did just that, sometimes speaking out against the interests of hotel and real estate interests that influenced, if not controlled, City Hall, and resisted spending money on safety innovations that chiefs called for: everything from safety valves on gas mains to multiple exit stairways.

    Yet powerful as this moment in May was, it seems likely to have been the last of its kind. Last month, the fire officers' union agreed that the chief of department would no longer be a Civil Service position requiring a test. Instead, it will be a political appointment of the fire commissioner, himself a political appointee. It is, said Glenn Corbett, a professor of fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, "an end of an era."

    The change is hailed by some as necessary modernization that will allow the mayor to exert more control over what is seen as a largely insular department. They question whether an exam is the best way to select a top manager for a $1.2 billion agency, as if the job were no different from that of a sanitation worker or bus driver. And, they say, other controls now exist, such as the mayor's management report, to ensure that the department is performing well. "It's not as if the only thing that safeguards public safety is Civil Service," said Dennis Smith, an associate professor of public policy at New York University.

    Still, any change will be painful for the department, which has long prided itself on its political independence. Some of its more storied chiefs were men who seemed to buck the whole world in the name of public safety.

    There was John Kenlon, who in 1923 faced down a mob of angry property owners and firmly stood behind his proposal that the city require buildings to have costly safety valves attached to their gas mains to prevent explosions that injured firefighters and civilians.

    There was Edward F. Croker, who around the turn of the last century pushed to have new buildings fireproofed and equipped with rear doors and stairways.

    There was John J. McElligott, who served as both chief and commissioner, and who in the La Guardia era sought an end to politicians' practice of rigging bids for fire equipment.

    And there was John T. O'Hagan, the chief and commissioner in the 1960's and 1970's, who rallied against powerful property owners who had pushed through a weakened building code allowing them to construct cheaper, taller buildings with little concern for fire safety.

    Though the march of time has coated their legacies with a near-mythic varnish, even in their own day they were lionized in a way not seen today. A chief's tenure was measured by the decade, not by the month, as it is today. Chiefs held forth on safety issues in newspapers and on radio and television.

    Mayors and commissioners came and went, but chiefs stayed, providing a sense of mission and exerting a moral authority that sprang directly from their experience on the front lines.

    In part, they held an elevated status because fires posed more risk than they do today, in a city of more wooden buildings and less fireproofing. At any large blaze, a chief of department rallying his troops or entering a burning building alongside firefighters was a common sight.

    "He taught me one lesson I've never forgotten," Chief McElligott once said of Chief Croker, who appeared by his side during a stubborn fire early in his career and patted his shoulder. "It steadies a young man to look around and see the boss there."

    Since Ed Koch, however, mayors have been reluctant to have chiefs of department serve lifelong terms, exercising once little-used power of declining to grant them tenure and removing them from office after a year or two. In the department's first 113 years, 1865 to 1978, there were 17 chiefs. Since 1978, there have been 15.

    Once Civil Service testing for the chief of department began in 1911, as a legacy of Theodore Roosevelt's reforms to rid the government of Tammany corruption, it ensured that there was "someone in that office who was beyond the control of City Hall," said Dennis Smith, a retired firefighter who has written several books on the New York City Fire Department. "His allegiance fundamentally had to be the safety of the people of New York."

    IT was simple: anyone who wanted to be the chief of department had to study to land among the top three scorers. As Chief O'Hagan did, even as a probationary firefighter to get ready for the lieutenant's exam, and thereafter for captain, battalion chief, deputy chief and chief of department. "He had his eye on the prize," said Don Cannon, a historian who teaches at John Jay College. "He knew from Day 1 that he wanted to be the chief of the New York City Fire Department."

    After he was promoted to chief of department in 1964, Chief O'Hagan led the department through some of its most harrowing years, those dominated by the arson that plagued the city in the 1960's and 70's, a time when the city's bankruptcy forced the layoff of hundreds of firefighters. He earned a reputation as a brilliant fire officer and a tough manager, despite his initial lack of knowledge of how to work the levers of city government.

    Now, as the chief's job is shifting from a paragon of meritocracy to some hybrid model of competence and political loyalty, the city's building code is being extensively revised. For the chiefs of yore, it would be a classic moment to take on the powerful real estate lobby. They didn't always win, but they spoke out, because they knew they could play a long game.

    Even Chief O'Hagan, commanding a leader as he was, could not thwart a 1968 revision of the building code, drafted in large part by the real estate industry, that he thought thinned the margin of fire safety.

    Still, Chief O'Hagan did not give up. He returned in 1973 with safety measures added to the code. But they did not apply to the World Trade Center, which, being owned by another government agency, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was exempt from city codes — and fire inspections.


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    Last edited by FFFRED; 04-19-2006 at 11:40 AM.

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    Ok, I give, why would the Officers Union agree to this? What was the trade off? Could someone please explain the duties of Chief of Dept versus the Commissioner? This new COD almost sounds like they'll be an 'assistant' commissioner.
    In Arduis Fidelis
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    The COD is the "voice of reason" when it come to saftey in NYC. B/c he wasn't picked by the administration means less coruption. It stems from the days on Boss Tweed and Tamany Hall. When the Mayor and Planners had a dumb idea the COD would be the wrench in the system. Traditionally our COD would stand up against any bad ideas of the City.

    Now they will just apoint someone who is willing to be a yes man......IMO.
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    I have to agree with TC and his question for the Union. One begs to ask, "What did they get out of it?"
    If you don't do it RIGHT today, when will you have time to do it over? (Hall of Fame basketball player/coach John Wooden)

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    Quote Originally Posted by MalahatTwo7
    I have to agree with TC and his question for the Union. One begs to ask, "What did they get out of it?"
    A small fraction of a percent in their latest raise...far from equal to its worth or to the amount they have spent protecting it in court all these years. Hopefully the polticians will oppose it...although that seems unlikely.

    Needless to say this is not a good thing at all.

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    Does the COD perform IC duties at any fires?

    Sorry, the FDNY command structure is kinda confusing to me. Like what position is what, etc, etc.
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    Quote Originally Posted by RFRDxplorer
    Does the COD perform IC duties at any fires?

    Sorry, the FDNY command structure is kinda confusing to me. Like what position is what, etc, etc.
    Although I can't remember the technical answer to when he responds...the Chief of Department responds usually on 5th alarms or greater and maybe 10-60s.

    He does take command as he is a fireman who had 5 lucky Saturdays.

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    So you could potentially have a "yes man"/politician running incident scenes? That does not bode well for FDNY...
    Last edited by HolleyFF241; 04-19-2006 at 07:21 PM. Reason: spelling, or typing. one of those buggers
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    Thumbs down

    It's an insult to all the chiefs past and present in my opinion. But when has the current administration ever cared about safety, tradition, taking care of the firefighters financially, etc. It's all computer statistics and $$$ saved for their pet projects to them. Good luck brothers.
    Tom

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    Yeah and you know damn well that they wont be promoting from within the ranks...
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    Quote Originally Posted by HolleyFF241
    Yeah and you know damn well that they wont be promoting from within the ranks...
    They have to promote from the Deputies rank. The city wanted anyone but at least the UFOA had the sense not to agree to that.

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    How can they expect to enforce that without civil service backing them up?
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    Quote Originally Posted by HolleyFF241
    How can they expect to enforce that without civil service backing them up?
    That provision was in the contract. Still not a done deal...legislation has to be passed.

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    In part, they held an elevated status because fires posed more risk than they do today, in a city of more wooden buildings and less fireproofing.
    Get a sense of where we’re headed. Two steps forward --- 5 backward, what a shame.

    Stay Safe

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