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Interview with Chief of FDNY

Aired September 11, 2002 - 12:05   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Listen, we were talking earlier about the firefighters and the enormous loss they had, and watching that ceremony at the Chelsea firehouse a few moments ago, a constant and consistent reminder of the amazing toll that division paid a year ago -- 343 men lost when the towers fell.
The chief is with us, Frank Cruthers, of the Fire Department of New York.

Good morning to you by the way. Good afternoon.

Two days ago you were sworn in as the chief, the only man in New York history to be a chief, be a former chief and then come back again. I think there is a message in there, am I right?

FRANK CRUTHERS, CHIEF FDNY: If you want to read that way, yes, I guess so.

HEMMER: Why did you come back then?

CRUTHERS: Well, I hadn't really wanted to leave in the first place, to be honest. I love this job. I love this department, and as we all do. And so many have given so much, we have a lost work to do, we have a lot of rebuilding to do to move forward and we are all accepting new responsibilities, more responsibilities. We have promoted almost 700 people in the last year. They are all stepping up and taking on new jobs.

HEMMER: Give me a sense of what you are hearing from the men and women that serve here in New York City. You visited several houses this morning, firehouses, on the way down here to ground zero. What were they saying? What were they talking about? What range of emotions did you pick up on?

CRUTHERS: Sadness, remembrance, recollection, a tremendous concern on the part of the current firefighters for the families of their heroic fallen brothers. I -- in my visits, not only today, but in the past year, I am constantly amazed at how the firefighters and the fire officers have on their own initiative rebuilt their companies. The department can provide them with trucks, tools, and training. But that's what a fire department needs, but it is not what a fire department is. A fire department is the people in the companies. They are the ones who make it work, they are the ones who serve the public, and all of the rest of it exists to support them and to make them more effective in every way that we can.

These people have come back from this horrible attack, and not only have they gotten back with the same dedication and commitment, they have taken in new members to the companies that lost so many, trained them and brought them along and made them an integral rational part of the unit. And at the same time, they have taken on responsibilities that no one would ever expect a firefighter to -- they've taken care of the families of their brothers.

HEMMER: In the past month, there has been a story circulating here in New York City that deals directly with the amount attention these men and women have also gotten. At times, it appears that it perhaps was too much and too overwhelming. Do you get a sense now that that is dying out a little bit to make the men and women more comfortable, or not?

CRUTHERS: I don't think that it's possible for them to have gotten too much attention in light of the sacrifices that were made and that they continue to make. It's difficult in being reminded constantly by a constant flow of visitors, of all well-intentioned, the generosity and the caring messages that we receive not only from across the country, but from across the world, were fantastic. One of the most encouraging things about them was the tremendous number of communication that's came from young people, schoolchildren.

HEMMER: So true.

CRUTHERS: Clearly, they are our future. We're here to pave the way for them. Too often, we hear the older generation decry the state of the younger, and what we have seen in the last year is an indication, we will be in good hands.

HEMMER: Look forward more a moment if you will, look to September 12th. Look to the Mackenzie report that pointed out the inadequacies of the system that had bee in place a year ago today.

Going forward, how does the department make itself better for the men and women who sign up, and also for the people who live in the tri-state area?

CRUTHERS: Very much participated and worked with the Mackenzie group in developing this study. We are committed to making as many of those changes as we possibly can. There are areas that the fire commissioner has already reorganized, the managerial structure of the department. We have -- are in the process of training officers and distributing radiation detection devices to every unit. We are working with the police department. We are working with other people, with pilot programs to improve our communications.

HEMMER: Look into the crystal ball a second, and tell me, in terms of the timeframe, at what point do you reach the points where you say, you know what, we saw inadequacies, we corrected this system and we put this in the place, and now it is more effective? At what point does that arrive?

CRUTHERS: You can say is that you accept that there is a great deal of work to be done. You commit yourself to doing the work. You have to realize that you're in an entirely new environment with new hazards, not in place of the old ones, but in addition to the old ones, that we have a tremendous training burden. We have tremendous opportunities. We need to train our people to a higher level. They are fully committed. We are blessed with an abundance of talented...

HEMMER: Oh, indeed, you are.

CRUTHERS: ... and committed people who are willing to step up.

HEMMER: Chief, thank you. Chief Cruthers, you've got your work cut out for you. Well, listen, we appreciate it, sir.




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