FDNY Fire Storm Over Pachyderm Privilege

NY Post - September 10, 2009

by Thomas Tracy

Suzi the elephant had better not need a bath anytime soon.

The city won't be in the mood to authorize any future pachyderm primping services now that they have egg-creams all over their faces for forcing New York City Fire Department personnel to take part in the cutesy Coney Island photo-op.

The FDNY announced last week that they made a mistake when they ordered a handful of firefighters from Engine Company 245 to scrub down Suzi in a photo-op for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's "Boom A Ring" circus.

Firefighters from Engine Company 245, located on 2919 West 8th Street, was supposed to hose down Suzi as she walked by the firehouse.

But when Suzi's tour of the area changed, the FDNY ordered the firefighters to wash her down outside Nathan's on Surf Avenue. Four firefighters did the deed, photos of which were seen all over the country.

Ten other firefighters remained at the station, which was listed as out of service for a half hour as the elephant got spa treatment.

The move drew the ire of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which said that their members are supposed to save lives, not bathe elephants.

They were particularly upset that the firefighters were ordered to take part in the photo op and that the firehouse was shut down when the cleaning took place.

"Thousands of tourists who flock to Coney Island daily and the residents who believe they will be protected, should an emergency arise, were jeopardized and left without fire and emergency medical protections all because of a disgraceful publicity stunt authorized by the City of New York," said Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. "The city has a moral and legal responsibility to protect all of its citizens and this stunt compromised their safety."

Union officials said that when the Boom A Ring Circus first asked them to show up outside Nathan's, firefighters at Engine Company 245 declined.

Their request soon rose the chain of command to the Chief of Department, who also reportedly said no.

Officials at City Hall stepped in to order the fire company closed and ordered all on-duty FDNY firefighters in the company to participate, union members alleged. City officials deny this allegation.

"The public does not want firefighters out giving baths to circus elephants when our job is to respond to emergencies," Cassidy said. "It is a disgrace that these firefighters were taken out of service to conduct a publicity stunt for a private company."

FDNY officials said that there were no emergency calls during the half hour the station was closed and no one was in jeopardy.

While company firefighters irked circus fans by not wanting to participate in the photo op, they earned the affection of another fan base.

The animal rights organization PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), which believes that animals don't belong in the circus, came to Engine Company 245 on Friday to bestow firefighters their "Compassionate Fire Department Award" plaque for their resistance to take part in Suzi's summer cleaning.