Citing a growing rift with the city and fire department over staffing at the World Trade Center site, the Memorial Service for the 343 fallen firefighters and paramedics in New York scheduled for Nov. 18 was called off Wednesday by the International Association of Firefighters and its New York affiliates. The city and FDNY followed the announcement accusing the unions of spreading misinformation.
IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger told Firehouse.com that the treatment, specifically from the Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and FDNY Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, dictated that there was no chance of the rift being solved and that the Nov. 18 service was definitely off.
"Given the concern felt by the widows of our fallen brothers and thousands of New York fire fighters and fire officers about the city’s callous actions over the last week, we believe it is impossible to hold a memorial service at this time that would bring people together to embrace the families, promote healing, and build unity," Schaitberger said.
A make up date for the service was not announced.
"We plan to hold a service at a later date with new city leadership that will be more sensitive to the emotions of all of those whose loved ones and colleagues are still entombed at the World Trade Center site," he said.
Specifically, the Commissioner and Mayor cut the number of firefighters working at ground zero, recovering bodies as they were uncovered in the cleanup effort, to 25. At times the number had been as large as 150. Firefighters protested said it was not enough to do a thorough job and bodies would be loaded and dumped in the landfill where all rubble from the site is being taken.
FDNY Says It Requested Postponement
But a terse statement from the FDNY blamed the union for allowing politics to play a role in the announcement. The Department said it asked for the postponement due to concern for the families, not the events at Ground Zero over the past week.
"[The announcement] clearly shows that the absolute last priority of this union (the IAFF) is the families who are involved," the statement said. "We asked the union to postpone the event because a majority of the families let us know they clearly thought it was too soon to have a memorial service. Instead, the unions use it as an excuse to inflame and misinform once again. They should be ashamed of themelves."
Giuliani said recommendations of safety experts and avoiding further injuries as rationale behind the staffing reduction. "This dangerous operation must be carried out with discipline and due regard for the health and safety of everyone involved -- even if some people have lost perspective and argue for throwing caution to the wind," he said in a statement released Wednesday night.
"It is a shame that the unions would cancel a memorial service and spread misinformation to the public regrading the City's efforts to recover the remains of those lost in the World Trade Center attack," Giuliani said. "The Fire Commission will continue to assess the need for an expanded complement of firefighters on the scene and has, for example, doubled the number to ensure that there will be a maximum effort to recover all human remains possible."
The Uniformed Firefighters Association Local 94 (UFA) and the Uniformed Fire Officers Association Local 854 (UFOA) played a role in the postponement decision.
No New Date Announced
The Memorial Service had been expected to be the largest gathering of firefighters and rescue workers in history and had been dubbed a 'historic partnership between the city, the fire department and IAFF union leaders' to stage the memorial, Schaitberger said when the service was first announced.
Schaitberger said that they would be planning a new memorial service after the new administration took over New York City Hall. Media mogul Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, beat the city's elected public advocate, Democrat Mark Green, in the race to succeed term-limited Giuliani in Tuesday’s election. Schaitberger would not speculate when a service might be resceduled.