The camaraderie of lower Manhattan briefly broke down yesterday when hundreds of angry firemen marched to the site of the wrecked World Trade Centre to protest against a decision by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to limit their numbers involved in removing rubble.
The marchers, led by officials of the New York firefighters' union, toppled barriers and tangled with police officers who had been ordered to stop them reaching ground zero. The short scuffle ended with three of the union leaders being arrested for disorderly conduct.
After several minutes of pushing and shoving at the barricades, the police relented and allowed the group to proceed to ground zero. By some estimates, the firemen, most in their helmets and firefighting gear, numbered as many as one thousand, although the protest was mainly peaceful.
The union has been infuriated by a decision Mr Giuliani made to reduce the numbers both of firemen and police officers at ground zero. He said earlier this week that only 24 of each group would remain at the site, arguing that any more would hinder efforts to remove wreckage from the area.
There is concern among firemen that the construction crews who are left behind will not be sufficiently respectful of any human remains that are unearthed. "Do the right thing," said one of the placards held by the marchers. The men chanted "Bring them Home", referring to the missing firemen.
The marchers proceeded from the site a few blocks to City Hall with a request for the Mayor to change his mind. "Our message has been delivered. If we come back here again, we'll come back with 5,000," warned Peter Gorman, one of the union chiefs, while the protesters stood outside a gate at City Hall.
Mr Giuliani defended his position yesterday. "The purpose for this is safety of the people working there and in some cases some people can't recognise this," he said, hours before the march took place.
Bob McGuire, a fireman whose nephew Richard Allen was among those missing in the rubble, was not impressed. He suggested that human remains were being loaded into rubbish skips. "I don't want him to end up in a Dumpster," he said.
Some 343 firemen were lost in the disaster of 11 September as well as 23 New York City police officers. Michael Carter, vice-president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said: "That site, besides containing roughly 250 firefighter bodies, also contains many, many, many civilian bodies as well."
Raul Reyes, a Houston fireman who was dispatched to New York to help with the arduous rescue efforts, said: "It's incredible that they would even think of doing this. The firefighters need closure and they are not being allowed to finish their job."Reuse content