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Sept. 11: One year after

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Firefighters: Sept. 11 caps year of departures, low morale

By Michael Weissenstein, Associated Press

NEW YORK Despite their status as America's heroes, many city firefighters say morale has dipped to the lowest point in memory because of labor disputes and the loss of hundreds of veteran colleagues.

"Firemen always love their job, but as far as working for the city and being treated the way we've been treated, morale is pretty lousy," said Tony Cummo, a 25-year veteran planning to retire Nov. 1.

The 11,500-member department lost 343 firefighters at the World Trade Center, and 747 more have since retired. An additional 360 commanding officers said in a union poll last month that they plan to retire within a year.

Firefighter unions say the departures threaten public safety.

Department leaders say claims that people are in danger are overblown. They say that bolstered training and new recruits' enthusiasm can compensate for the loss of experience.

"We're on a mission," said Sal Cassano, department chief of operations. "Sometimes, with dedication and enthusiasm, you make up for a little of that experience."

The department lost 4,400 years of accumulated experience when the twin towers collapsed. Many of the hundreds of firefighters who retired since then were drawn by the prospect of higher pension benefits because of the overtime they worked during the aftermath of Sept. 11. Others were pushed to leave by nervous family members, or they wearied of the pay.

Rank-and-file firefighters have worked for more than two years without a raise or union contract. A new recruit with a spouse and two children earns about $31,000 a year. After 20 years, salaries can reach about $55,000.

The firefighters union and the union representing commanding officers are lobbying Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration for pension and pay changes to help retain veterans.

They say probationary firefighters with less than a year on the job are rushing into situations for which they are unprepared, and freshly promoted officers are struggling to manage these inexperienced crews.

Union officials acknowledge there have been no deaths or serious injuries since Sept. 11. And they declined to cite any incidents of delayed or risky operations, saying that would embarrass individual fire companies.

But another terrorist attack, even a more conventional disaster, could be catastrophic, they say.

"It's Russian roulette," said John Dunne, who represents fire captains. "We're just hoping that nothing happens, that the cylinder that clicks when you put it next to your head isn't loaded."

Carlos Kirjner, who directed a five-month study of the department's Sept. 11 response for management consultant McKinsey & Co., acknowledged the extraordinary challenge. But he said a strong pool of experienced firefighters who remain on the job should allow the department to recover.

"There are certainly lots of talented people in the department," he said. "Certainly with appropriate training they will be able to step up to perform any tasks that they are asked to undertake."

Retaining veterans is at the center of a union push for a pay raise and pension changes.

The city opposes a move to base firefighters' pensions on their highest-paying year of service. FDNY retirees receive a pension equal to half their last year's pay under the current system. That leaves many who made many thousands of dollars of overtime after Sept. 11 feeling they have little choice but to retire now.

City Hall, facing a more than $5 billion budget deficit, has estimated the pension change could cost $18 million annually.

The administration also points out that it already worked with the unions on two recently passed pension changes. The state Legislature removed a pension cap for firefighters with more than 30 years, and allowed 20-year veterans who remain in the department to tap pension funds to supplement their salaries.

"We have already presented our legislative package," said Jordan Barowitz, a spokesman for Bloomberg. "We asked them what they wanted, we came to agreement and we went and asked for that."

On pay, the firefighters' union is weighing whether to ask the city for a deal like the police pay hike --11.5 percent over two years -- granted by an arbitration board this week, said union president Steve Cassidy. The officers' union has approved a similar arrangement.

A deal, Cassidy said, would improve the mood of his membership, which he called miserable. "It's absolutely, positively at an all-time low," Cassidy said.



Today's news:
Ceremony at Ground Zero
Mass. remembers victims
Silence, tears mark day at Logan
Under alert, Mass. carries on
Bush faces day with resolve
World remembers attacks in US
Memorial in Shanksville, Pa.
Updated wire coverage

Photo galleries:
Families mourn, remember
Ceremony at Ground Zero
Ceremony at the Pentagon
Ceremony at Pa. crash scene
Remembrances worldwide
Remembrances in Boston

NECN RealVideo:
Moment of silence observed
Ceremony at State House
Gettysburg Address read
Procession at Ground Zero
A somber travel day at Logan
Images of Sept. 11, 2001

 THE SERIES

 DAY ONE   SEPT. 3

Preparing for the worst
Security has become the new norm in Greater Boston.

 DAY TWO   SEPT. 4

Fear and children
Children's responses may shed light on human anxiety, resiliency.

 DAY THREE   SEPT. 5

Muslim minds
The US effort to win over Muslim hearts and minds is failing.

 DAY FOUR   SEPT. 6

Science vs. terrorism
New chemical, biological threats spur nation's top minds.

 DAY FIVE   SEPT. 7

Detainees
For those deported after Sept. 11, the losses are wrenching.

 DAY SIX   SEPT. 8

A special Magazine issue
A Sept. 11 narrative by former Massport chief Virginia Buckingham, plus an essay by Christopher Hitchens.

A special Arts section
How culture has changed since Sept. 11, including a gallery of art inspired by the attacks.

A special Focus section
A look at how the lives of six Americans were altered.

Everywhere USA
Terrorism comes to God's country.

 DAY SEVEN   SEPT. 9

Where is Al Qaeda?
How have bin Laden and his terrorist group eluded US forces?

 DAY EIGHT   SEPT. 10

Two cities
New York and DC one year later.

 DAY NINE   SEPT. 11

America remembers
The US looks back at the terrorist attacks.

Victims and survivors
A year later, still hurting.

A time for bells and remembrance
A clash of views on terror
Limited damage to the economy
Families build support system
NYC's healing process
Finding comfort in the kitchen
Bailey: A day of atonement


From the Associated Press:
Tribute paid with tattoos
Charities changed by 9/11
White House calls home
9/11 stole innocence, love
Man escaped earthquake, 9/11
Update on 9/11's famous faces
Firemen still burying dead
A mother's note to a lost son
9/11 created heroes in death
Voice mails bring comfort
Little things hold memories
87th floor survivor copes
Sampling of 9/11 memorials
Pentagon survivors move on
Moments of silence on Sept. 11
Survivors try to move forward
Families cling to chances
Sept. 11 widow trying to forgive
Widow becomes an advocate
Workplace response varies
Graphic: Funds offer relief





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