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This article was reproduced with the kind permission
of the British Broadcasting Corporation

 

 

 

 

 

 

The BBC's Malcolm Brabant in New York
"It's difficult to see how they can lose this particular battle"

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Friday, 2 November, 2001, 22:30 GMT
Face-off at Ground Zero

Firefighter confronts police
Firefighters say they will not give up the search

New York's hard-working and long-suffering firefighters cracked on Friday.

Angered at plans to scale back the number of workers searching for bodies at the devastated World Trade Center site, several hundred firefighters marched in protest.


This is about dignity for our fallen brothers

Kevin Cunnane, firefighter
City officials say it is too dangerous to have firefighters on their hands and knees looking for victims among the rubble while cranes and diggers work overhead.

The firefighters do not want to leave until they have recovered every last one of their fallen colleagues.

Of the 343 firefighters killed when the twin towers collapsed, just 74 have been recovered.

Some came to the protest straight from a stint at Ground Zero, with dust from the ruins still caking their boots.

'Bring them home'

Firefighter Kevin Cunnane told BBC News Online: "This is about dignity for our fallen brothers. I lost a lot of close friends.

"We told their families that we'd do the right thing, but the politicians just don't get it. We're willing to take risks - that's what the fire department does."

Firefighter's jacket
Firefighters say the victims should be treated with more dignity

As the firefighters marched on the sealed-off area around the ruins, a widow held up a photo of her husband.

Her message was simple but stark: "I want to bring him home."

Some of the protesting firefighters tussled with police - with whom they have been working side-by-side since the terror attacks - who initially refused to allow them access to the site.

In this stand-off between New York's new heroes, the burly firefighters soon overcame the police, snatching some of their colleagues from the hands of those trying to arrest them.

After pushing through the police barricades, the firefighters held a minute's silence and recited the Lord's Prayer under the shattered remains of the World Trade Center.

But the arrest of about a dozen of their number wound up the already hurt and angry firefighters.

Protest to Giuliani

They then marched on City Hall to protest against the arrests - and to take their message to the door of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who earlier this week announced that he wanted no more than 24 firefighters and 24 police officers on the site at any one time.

"None should go, none should go," the firefighters chanted, this time staying behind the police barricades.

Tribute on the back of a T-shirt
Hundreds of firefighters were killed when the twin towers collapsed
"Just remember we're here for your boys too", one firefighter shouted to the police officers marshalling the protest.

Twenty-three New York City police officers died in the terror attacks.

Union official Edward Burke said that city officials wanted to turn the site into a construction zone.

"They'll be scooping up our fallen brothers, putting them in a dump truck, and taking them out to the landfill in Staten Island. I'll be damned if I'm going to go out with a rake to a garbage dump and try to find the bones and return them to their families. They deserve to be removed with dignity."

As the firefighters dispersed at the end of the protest, many shook hands with the same police officers who 30 minutes earlier had been holding them back.

"We've got no problem with the police, they're just doing what they're told - crowd control," Mr Burke said.

"But the mayor promised all widows that the recovery would continue until the last brick was turned over. Obviously, he's reneged on his promise to our widows."