MAYOR FLARES UP AT REBELLIOUS BRAVEST

NY Post - December 08, 2004

by DAVID SIEFMAN, MARK BULLIET and CYNTHIA R. FAGEN

Mayor Bloomberg defended his fire commissioner yesterday after disgruntled FDNY union members — furious over manpower cuts and the zero-tolerance crackdown on booze and sex in firehouses — delivered a scathing no-confidence vote.

"We will not tolerate turning a firehouse into a brothel," Bloomberg said. "We're not going to tolerate firefighters drinking when they're on the job. We absolutely will not let anyone who's on drugs drive a fire engine."

The mayor said Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta "is doing exactly what he should do," adding, "The Fire Department union should probably step back and take a look in a mirror."

Bloomberg was referring to the embarrassing rash of drunk-driving arrests of FDNY members, as well as booze-fueled violence and sexcapades at firehouses around the city.

Last New Year's Eve, a Staten Island firefighter was bashed over the head with a chair by a colleague and seriously injured during a boozy night of celebration. He is now suing the city for $100 million.

In the most recent headline-grabbing scandal, three Bronx firefighters were accused of having sex in their firehouse with an FDNY groupie. One firefighter was fired. But union head Stephen Cassidy fired back, charging that the real issue for the no-confidence vote was that Scoppetta had jeopardized public safety by cutting from five to four the number of firefighters on 49 of the city's 197 engine companies.

"For this fire commissioner not to understand that reductions in manpower compromises our safety is outrageous," said Cassidy, who heads the 20,000-member Uniformed Firefighters Association.

Cassidy also complained that Scoppetta also refused to support corporate sponsorship to keep some targeted firehouses from closing.

Scoppetta claimed the vote was motivated by politics. "I understand Steve Cassidy is unhappy," Scoppetta said. "He's got an election coming in six weeks and he's done precious little for his members."

Bloomberg, speaking at Harlem Hospital, added, "We have a group of firefighters in this city who are the best in the world and it's a disgrace . . . when a handful of bad apples behave in a ways that doesn't bring credit."

Scoppetta added that he would continue to address the problem of large numbers of firefighters taking medical leave — which activates a provision in the union contract allowing the manpower reductions on engines.

Previously, a company would go out of service if injuries or sick leave left only two men available. Engines are now dispatched with two-man crews.

Sick leave, which has topped 7.5 percent, takes away some 600 firefighters daily. Another 700 firefighters are on light duty and unable to fight fires. Together the two groups make up 15 percent of the work force.