Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
New York, NY 10007
Dear Mayor Bloomberg,
I am writing concerning the terminations of the 9/11 FDNY firefighters and the current Zero Tolerance Policy for substance abuse.
I have been a volunteer working with these firefighters since 2002. I am deeply troubled by this policy and the terminations, knowing how incredibly heroic these men are and how selflessly they served the City after 9/11.
The current Zero Tolerance policy does not recognize the unprecedented events of 9/11 and does not address the obvious problem of Post Traumatic Stress disorder within the fire department. The punishment of termination and loss of benefits is harsh, severe and inhumane, considering the context of what these men have been through.
The stigma surrounding counseling is overwhelming within the fire department. The culture is one where firefighters are strong, and they handle things on their own or internally. If a firefighter sought counseling, it meant he was weak and couldn’t be relied upon at a fire. The motto is “I got it”. They do not want their fellow firefighters to detect a dent in their armor. They feel they are supposed to be able to handle even the most traumatic events on their own. That’s what they do. They handle things.
These firefighters attended over a hundred funerals, lost countless friends and colleagues, were exposed to dangerous toxins while cleaning up the World Trade Center site and still did their jobs. But they are not flawless, and as one compassionate OATH judge stated, “Even the bravest can be broken.”
Men who did make their way to the Counseling Services Unit were met with student interns, instead of top level medical professionals. Records were lost, confidentiality was violated. Men looking for help were met with staff equally traumatized and ill-equipped to deal with the situation. The student interns were not qualified to diagnose or treat PTSD.
This coupled with the fact that the Counseling Services Unit was located over a firehouse (which meant confidentiality was impossible to achieve), it is reasonable to conclude any efforts to bring these men to the CSU after 9/11 would fail, leaving these men to deal with the events and their stresses on their own.
The suicide rate within the FDNY is currently the highest ever in the department’s history. This is perhaps the most troubling issue, and the biggest indicator something is terribly wrong. The effects of a Zero Tolerance policy that strips a firefighter of his job, his benefits and his pension with no offer of rehabilitation or a second chance can only add to the increase in this statistic.
So much senior talent was lost to the FDNY on 9/11. Would it not make sense to preserve the senior talent that is still there? Let us not waste the valuable experience these men bring to a job where experience means the difference between life and death.
I would like to ask that you authorize the FDNY Commissioner to change the penalty for substance abuse from one of termination to one of rehabilitation and give these firefighters a second chance. The policy does not work, it is cruel, and it does not take into consideration the contribution and sacrifices these men made, the horrors that they have been through or the culture of the organization they love. Stripping these men of their jobs, their benefits and their retirement dismisses everything they have done in their careers and their commitment to the job. It unfairly penalizes both them and their families.
Mr. Mayor, I respectfully ask that you amend this policy. Put firefighters back to work who can be rehabilitated, and grant those who cannot work the rights to their benefits and their pension. It is just the right thing to do.
Executive Director, Firefighters Fund