Shirking Fire Duty Costly

Chief Leader - November 24, 2009


It might seem surprising, given the contributing role that the long-term failure by fire officers to carry out required inspections of the Deutsche Bank building played in the death of two firefighters in 2007, that some officers would still shirk that duty.

But the Fire Department was forced to discipline four officers last week for cutting short their building inspection work, in one case by more than two hours out of the scheduled three.

Clearly, the low regard that some in the department have had for the inspection work-it's deemed less important than actually fighting fires, although it's not clear how, given its preventive power, they can justify sloughing it off-has lingered despite the Deutsche Bank tragedy.

But Fire Commissioner Nick Scoppetta rightfully labeled it "a dereliction of duty" and took strong action to punish the offenders, fining them at least five days' pay and removing them from their companies and reassigning them to fire-prevention duties.

Uniformed Fire Officers Association President Alexander Hagan called the punishment an "equitable solution" that was worked out after the department initially planned to take harsher action. He declined to be specific about the penalties that were headed off.

What was imposed is actually pretty severe. The reassignment means the officers will each be working straight day tours, which hits them in the pocket on two counts besides their fines: they can't get overtime, and those who earn outside income at side jobs will not be able to rearrange their schedules, as officers often do, to work 24-hour tours that give them far more days off than on during a year.

The threat of similar punishment for others who neglect the inspectional work may be deterrent enough to change what Mr. Hagan referred to as "the culture" in which inspection work is considered a nuisance.