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NY Firefighters Protest Personnel Reductions at WTC Site - 2001-11-02

Angry New York City firefighters clashed with police Friday during a protest against planned personnel reductions at the site of the World Trade Center recovery operations.

Several firefighters were arrested after they broke through police lines and some police officers were injured in scuffles with the firefighters. The demonstration was called to protest New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's decision that no more than 25 firefighters be present at the site. On September 11, 343 firefighters died trying to rescue people from the Trade Center and the bodies of about 250 of them are still in the rubble.

The mayor's decision sparked strong emotions and the feelings of one protesting fireman were typical. "They [the dead firefighters] are my brothers, they are my family down there," he said. "How would you like it if your mother, sister or brother was down there and just picked up like a piece of garbage and taken to a dump?"

The firefighters say they want to treat every recovered body with dignity and respect and that city officials are attempting to turn the Trade Center site into what the protestors call a "scoop and dump operation."

But Mayor Giuliani says the contingent of firefighters at the site, which had numbered more than 100, was causing a safety hazard. He said they were often unsupervised and were getting in the way of heavy earth-moving equipment at the site, causing the potential for death or serious injury.

"The changes we are making are all very responsible ones," he said. "They are all based on the recommendations given to us by safety experts who have a responsible degree of detachment from this. They can empathize with the loss we are all feeling but at the same time can exercise professional judgment about the safety of the people that are there. We have to follow that advice even if our hearts tell us something different."

The mayor said every body recovered will continue to be handled with dignity but that he can not justify risking the lives of more firefighters in the recovery operation.