Tuesday, August 20

Life at the Firehouse - Salon has a hard-hitting look at how news outlets have been too meek to criticize the lapses of the NYC Fire Department on September 11. I guess those news outlets include Salon, since their 'meta-news' story, in and of itself, hardly makes any critical comments about the FDNY at all. On the other hand, I found this morning's front page article in the Wash Post to be exactly the sort of tough expose Salon said hadn't been printed. Striking to me was this good-ole-boy characterization of the fire department:
This is a department still grounded in successions of father and son, uncle and cousin. Its esprit de corps is considerable. Leaders rise from the engine houses, often on the basis of displays of raw and brave leadership.

But the McKinsey report took a dim view of the Fire Department leaders, noting that $2 million is needed to train them. Fire chiefs, the report notes, are not "effective managers," don't understand their roles and responsibilities, and need to learn how to better command and plan. Even the most senior chiefs enjoy civil service protection.

The department also suffers from a long tradition of resistance to technological innovation -- in the 19th century, the Fire Union fought the move from hand-pulled to horse-pulled engines, and in the 20th century it resisted the change from horse-drawn equipment to fire trucks.

These revelations don't surprise me. My first inkling that not all was right with the FDNY was when I noticed how many relatives were listed among the dead in the first fireman casualty reports. Then followed the brouhaha over the proposed tribute statue, which had, in a politically correct fashion, modified the famous photo by Thomas Franklin (now a postage stamp) to include a black and an Hispanic firefighter. In fact, the department has little such ethnic diversity (aside from Irish and Italians, of course). Also, I would have thought it apparent to everyone watching CBS's docudrama 9/11 that there was considerable disorganization and disarray among fire commanders in the WTC lobby on the fateful day. At least criticism of the FDNY is now being heard, and perhaps this rather backward institution will see some needed reform.