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This story appears in the September/October 2002 issue of 911 Magazine.
They say time heals all wounds. However, they can never tell you how much time. As we approach the first anniversary of the day that forever changed our lives, the FDNY still is in a world of hurt. Well documented are the experiences of the fire fighters and chiefs on duty that day. Not well documented is what has happened to us inside the office, and inside our minds.
During the height of the activity of September 11, 2001, we in the Manhattan central office at first did not have much of an idea as to the scope of the incident, partly because we were just too busy trying to get companies to the scene and keeping up with the rest of our duties. With our minds fully occupied, it was easy to not think about the losses we suffered.
Later, it became all too evident that we suffered a major loss of life. We learned early on about the deaths of Chief of Department Ganci, First Deputy Commissioner Feehan, and Father Judge. It was a downhill slide from there on. As the day wore on and activity ebbed, we then had the opportunity to reflect upon what occurred.
Many of our members became dispatchers because they were connected to the Fire Department in some way prior. Some grew up as buffs hanging around the office. Some came from the Fire Patrol or Fire Salvage Corps. Because of these connections, many members had very close ties to fire fighters and chiefs. When the complete list of 343 names became public, the enormity of the loss hit home. Many dispatchers lost a few friends. Some lost many, many friends. (One senior dispatcher I talked with stated he had attended over 50 funerals and memorials; all friends.) Even those who lost no friends felt a sense of loss. Indeed, how can no one feel a great loss?
With a huge demand for counseling services, the Fire Department had to contract private counseling facilities. Due to privacy concerns I do not have any idea how many of our members sought counseling. Even though it is almost a year past, when talking to someone, I will not broach the subject of September 11 unless he or she does so first. There is no way to predict how someone will react. It is still a tender subject.
When the World Trade Center collapsed, so too did the economy of New York City. In one fell swoop, we lost a huge chunk of income from tax revenues, rents, and tourism. Then Mayor Giuliani and current Mayor Bloomberg devised plans to fill the proposed budget deficit. One such plan was to offer city employees an option to retire early with no penalty. The intention of this is to increase attrition rates and save hundreds of thousands of dollars by reducing the city payroll.
Before September 11, we had to deal with declining membership due to regular retirements. Since then, members that were eligible to retire but did not want to, all of a sudden decided that it was time to go. Now, with the help of the early retirement incentive, we stand to lose around 30 additional members before the end of 2002. Since we have a minimum staffing requirement, we must hire to fill the vacancies. However, we cannot fill the slots as fast as they are opening. This will increase overtime and put a strain on members mandated to fill open shifts. In addition, retirements at the managerial level will open up promotional opportunities thus causing even more vacancies.
The FDNY Bureau of Communications is a dynamic structure. Dispatch protocols change frequently. New directives appear faster than you can commit them to memory. Here are some of the changes that took place in the last year:
You might think that when forced to work under the conditions stated above, you would say it is impossible for anyone to keep their objectivity, concentration, and sanity. Objectivity and concentration is second nature to us. Remember, most of us took this job with a wholehearted interest. We love what we do and when the chips are flying low, we are soaring high.
As for sanity, well, we are New Yorkers. That should sum it up right there.