Capt. Peter Gorman, the president of the 2,500-member Uniformed Fire Officers Association, and Kevin Gallagher, president of the 9,000-member Uniformed Firefighters Association were both charged with criminal trespassing over the weekend. Both men were released Sunday.
Police did not detail the circumstances leading to the arrests, but both men say they broke no laws in leading the fire department protests.
More than 1,000 firefighters participated in protests Friday after the city scaled back the number of police and fire officials included in recovery efforts at the Trade Center site. New regulations, implemented early last week, reduce the number of police and fire department workers to 25 per agency. As many as 150 people from each department had previously worked at the site.
The city also added the Department of Design and Construction to the list of departments overseeing the Trade Center recovery effort. Fire officials had previously held sole control over the site.
Twelve protesters were arrested when marchers tried to storm through police barricades near the Trade Center wreckage and a scuffle left five police officers injured. The Manhattan District Attorney eventually dropped most of the serious charges against the protesters.
Tensions between fire department, city
A spokesperson for Gallagher said the city was sending the wrong signal by arresting the union leaders.
“The message the city is sending is that if you don’t agree with what a union says, you simply arrest its president,” he said.
Gorman called New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani a “fascist,” telling reporters the city was “putting me through the system like I’m a thug.”
Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said he had permitted firefighters to hold a march to City Hall, but said he would not allow any protests at the Trade Center disaster site. Kerik called the disaster site “a frozen area … It’s not a protesting site.”
Firefighters have criticized the city’s new policy of personnel cutbacks which, they contend, turn the recovery efforts into a “scoop and dump” operation to save the city money.
But city officials, including Giuliani, say part of the reason for the cutbacks is concern for the safety of rescue workers in the presence of the heavy lifting equipment necessary to move the site’s heavy debris load. Giuliani said it was no longer reasonable to put so many workers in harm’s way now that chances of finding anyone alive in the wreckage are scarce.
Giuliani today said law and order must be maintained, even when dealing with such a hot-button topic.
“There is no question that emotions are very, very high for all of us… But the reality is the kind of conduct displayed today is unacceptable. You cannot hit police officers. You can’t disobey the law.”
Nearly 400 firefighters died in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Two hundred are still among the estimated 3,900 people believed to be buried under the Trade Center debris.