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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Interview with Nicholas Scoppetta

Aired September 11, 2002 - 07:16   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to go to back to Bill Hemmer, who is standing by down there, to bring us up to date on what's happening at this hour.
Good morning -- Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Paula. Good morning once again.

Three hundred and forty-three is the number of firefighters who paid the ultimate price a year ago today. In an instant, more than 600 children had lost their father. It was a devastating price to pay, and for the past year, there has been a lot of attention and a lot of focus paid on the fire department officials, who essentially climbed the stairs into that fire to try and save the lives of so many.

The current commissioner, Nicholas Scoppetta, is our guest this morning right here down at ground zero.

And, sir, we say good morning to you...

NICHOLAS SCOPPETTA, COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK FIRE DEPARTMENT: Good morning.

HEMMER: ... on a morning where we all stopped to remember.

The mayor was quoted yesterday as saying, it is important to stop today and to pause and to remember. But toward the end of the day, it's also very important to look forward and see how as a country, as a people and as a city, we get better.

How does the fire department get better after such a devastating loss?

SCOPPETTA: Well, we're getting better. We have hired over 1,200 new firefighters. We replaced all of the lost equipment. We have developed new technologies, new strategies, new partnerships. The partnership of the police department is stronger than it has ever been before.

But ultimately, my main concern is about people. It's about our firefighters, our EMS people. They have been through a terrible time. It's is still a department very much in mourning. We had two memorial services this week. But they are coming from it.

We've lost a lot of experienced people, and we hate to see that happen. On the other hand, we have made a lot of promotions that have almost kept pace.

And so, we're going to be OK. We're going to be stronger than ever.

HEMMER: You mentioned people. Give me a personal note here. Was there a time this week -- maybe it was Monday on September 9, maybe it was Tuesday on September 10, maybe it's today -- where you stopped and thought, you know what, the scab is coming off the wound yet again?

SCOPPETTA: Well, I think there are a lot of raw feelings surfacing again. Every day this past year, 9/11 presented itself in conversations and recollections, but now that it's actually here, it's stronger than ever. It's a very emotional time.

But still, it is a time, as the mayor said, to move on, to rebuild. And that's actually happening.

HEMMER: Yes, do you talk in your conversations with firefighters, how are they approaching this day? Do they want to work? Do they want to stay home? Do you have a sense of that?

SCOPPETTA: I think they're looking forward to September 12.

HEMMER: Right.

SCOPPETTA: They want this behind them. Almost everyone I have talked to wants this behind them. And that goes for the families, too, of those who were lost at the World Trade Center. I know some people in my own office who lost loved ones, who simply have gotten out of town for today.

So, as some have said, we each are going to mark this day in our own way. I think what we're doing today, the memorial service, I'm going to be visiting firehouses this afternoon, the mayor and I. And we're doing a memorial service tonight. We'll be in church. I am comfortable with all of that.

HEMMER: Let's talk about what changes within the department itself. The McKinsey report came out about a month ago, very critical on many aspects of how communication is carried out, not only with the fire department, but also how the fire department communicates with the police department.

What assurance can you offer, not only to people of New York City, but also the people that you employ to make sure that things are (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

SCOPPETTA: Well, those are the people that I really try to speak to directly. I give them an assurance that we're doing everything we possibly can to give them the proper tools, the best communication system, and the best training and support that we can possibly put together.

We've done a lot about communications. New radios, they are all being field-tested now on Staten Island. The most important thing that's going on in communications, though -- because it's not about radios, it's about a communications system -- is that we are exploring with the police department using their vast infrastructure -- receivers, transmitters -- that they have based all over the city, over 300 base stations. We don't have any of that. We go point-to- point with a portable radio. I think that's going to make a big difference.

HEMMER: Commissioner, thank you for stopping by. Best of luck today...

SCOPPETTA: Thank you very much.

HEMMER: ... and on your business throughout the day -- Nicholas Scoppetta.

SCOPPETTA: Thank you.

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