Scoppetta Retiring As Fire Commissioner; Unions Not Weeping

Chief Leader - October 13, 2009

by ARI PAUL

Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta will leave his job at the end of the year, regardless of the outcome in next month's mayoral election, he said in a department memo Oct. 8.

Mr. Scoppetta, who has come under heavy criticism from fire unions in the last two years because of the department's failure to inspect the Deutsche Bank building for a year prior to the blaze that killed two Firefighters, is leaving to take on teaching opportu- nities, according to the Associated Press.

Cites Post-9/11 Improvements

He came to the FDNY from the Administration for Children's Services a few months after 9/11 and in his memo said that the department had been rebuilt after losing 343 members in the attacks, noting that he increased training for senior officers in counter-terrorism.

"To improve accountability we issued new rules and directives aimed at better controlling overtime abuses, overseeing off-the-line ‘light duty' administrative positions, and strengthening drug and alcohol policies to improve member safety," Mr. Scoppetta said in his memo. "We also launched the most successful minority recruitment campaign in the FDNY history that will improve diversity for years to come and make the firefighter ranks more reflective of the communities they service.

He continued, "In the aftermath of the Deutsche Bank tragedy that took the lives of two Firefighters, we are re-engineering our field inspection system. We are working with IBM to create a $25-million integrated inspection data system that will combine various internal and external databases and transform our inspectional process to one that is riskbased, enhancing firefighter and public safety."

Long Law-Enforcement Career

Mr. Scoppetta has worked on and off in government since 1962, when he was an Assistant District Attorney in the Manhattan DA's Office. Since then he was a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District and city Investigation Commissioner, and served as Deputy Mayor for Criminal Justice from 1976-78. He became ACS Commissioner in 1996, and has also worked as a private attorney and a law professor.

Patrick J. Bahnken, who as president of Local 2507 of District Council 37 represents Paramedics and Emergency Medical Technicians, withheld his usual criticism of Mr. Scoppetta's tenure as one that maintained the Emergency Medical Service's "second-class" status within the FDNY.

"I wish the Commissioner long health and good luck in all his future endeavors," Mr. Bahnken said. "I think that overall the man has been in public service for a long, long time, and I would imagine what finally made him pull the plug was his desire to spend the rest of his life with family."

He continued, "I truly hope that whoever replaces him has a background in emergency medical services as well as firefighting. It has to be somebody who is willing to take a hard look at the absolutely abysmal morale that is impacting the EMS workforce, and who wants to make a truly conscious effort to improve morale."

Ongoing Battles With UFA

Mr. Scoppetta has often battled Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steve Cassidy, who had claimed that the Commissioner had ignored complaints from his membership on issues concerning equipment, inspection protocol and dispatching.

Mr. Scoppetta has countered by citing reduced response times and fire fatalities under his administration.

"The indisputable fact is that today's FDNY is—without question— better prepared, better trained, and better equipped than ever before," he said. "New Yorkers have never been better protected and served than under the past eight years of this administration."

Mr. Cassidy disagreed in a statement: "The Scoppetta years were not kind to the Fire Department of the City of New York."