2001-10-20 / Columnists

Boyle-ing Points by Kevin Boyle

You look across the bay and see the jagged skyline sparkling like beach quartz. Other times, usually late in the day, the sun washes over the buildings giving them the look of newly minted pennies. But now, no matter what the light, something’s missing from this once-distinctive treasure. The absence of the great towers is a stark, daily reminder of the horror that happened here. Yet, the gaping wound should also serve as a reminder of the greatness in our midst.

How utterly absurd it seems now. Kids clamoring for autographs of minor leagues baseball players---heroes in the making---- playing for the Cyclones in Coney Island. Long before the world changed, because of some promotion, the place was packed on an August night with NY Firefighters and their kids. Nobody at the time realized all the actual heroes were in the stands.

That was on oversight we can all be forgiven. But now we’ve got to offer more than lip service to the genuine heroes among us.

When asked how much New York was going to need in the days following the September 11 attack, President Bush was told $20 billion immediately. In a smart, compassionate gesture he doubled that figure.

Now officials are saying the final cost to New York will be more than 100 billion---a number that will be never exact---though it will be enormous.

You know huge amounts will be squandered, misspent, stolen. Despite the good intentions of so many, that’s just the way things are.

While it’ll be difficult to maintain control of how effectively 100 billion will be spent there’s something that should be done with a tiny, tiny fraction of those billions. The government should set aside $375 million----and amount that won’t be missed by even the most scrupulous bean counter-----and offer it to active firefighters for a job well done.

That comes to about $25,000 per member of the FDNY. It should be tax-free and it should be delivered by September 11, 2002. Let’s hope some our political leaders say it should be more.

Firefighters are indeed brave and giving people. They’ve got a crazy job they love: they run into burning building to save the lives of strangers. But none of them signed on to be ground troops.

What they did on September 11 and for the weeks following was above and beyond----and now, the government of the people----should offer each and every one of them a small bonus.

The general public has been extraordinarily generous to the families of the FDNY. Some firehouses have had to set up non-profit accounts so the monies that pour in to help those who’ve lost fathers and brothers and sons can be handled efficiently and properly. That’s just one more thing the guys still on the job have to do. They’ve already got to attend too many funeral and memorials. Some are thrust into the role of surrogate fathers. Some can’t grieve even though they may have lost best friends --- because they still have to put out fires. And some of those fires occur still today at Ground Zero.

While the general public has been generous with donations and praise how many of them know that a great percentage of firefighters have necessary second and third jobs?

In many cases, firefighters have been unable to work these jobs because they’re so desperately needed now by the FDNY. And when they’re not on duty they’re hearing bagpipes for their fallen brothers.

Do any of these guys need to be running to another job just now? Some need counseling; plenty need rest. None need money worries.

Do we want a single hero to be agonizing about how to make a mortgage or tuition payment?

Of course not. Because for one thing, if New York, God forbid, is attacked again we ordinary citizens will again lean on our heroes to save us, to get us through. And they’ll do it. And they’ll do it whether they get a money bonus or not.

But they should get something. And it shouldn’t have to wait until the next contract or come as a result of a fight at a negotiating table.

It’s a shame firefighters will never make what ballplayers make and it won’t be often when they’re asked for autographs but at the very least this city and America should thanks. And here’s a little extra something for your troubles.

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