NYC Firefighters Banned From Decorating Lockers

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," January 11, 2007, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: "Big Outrage" involving the heroes of 9/11. New York City firefighters have been told they can no longer decorate their own lockers with — get this — American flags or photos of their loved ones, including fallen comrades, some of whom died in the World Trade Center attacks and others who died while fighting in Iraq.

City officials say they have good reason for the new rules, but most of the firefighters think they're downright offensive. Steve Cassidy is one. He's president of the New York Uniformed Firefighters Association.

These are kind of hard to believe. Why would the fire department tell your members: You can't put up a flag in your locker, or the guy that used to be your partner who died on 9/11, or a guy who was a friend that died in Iraq?

STEVE CASSIDY, NEW YORK UNIFORMED FIREFIGHTERS ASSOC.: It doesn't make sense. What they've typically done is go over the top. They apparently had a case where there was something offensive on one locker.

GIBSON: Somebody wrote something?

CASSIDY: In a firehouse, yes. And instead of dealing with that, which they have the ability to do, they decided to come out with a blanket statement that nothing can be on any locker in any firehouse in the City of New York. And they went further to say to the officers, scrape anything off that is already on those lockers.

GIBSON: So, now, were firemen out there having to scrape stuff off lockers? Flags and things?

CASSIDY: Absolutely. American flag stickers, anything that was stuck, and had to be removed had to be scraped off.

Today at our union meeting we handed out 10,000 American flag stickers and told the guys to put them back on. And Ron Kuby, our attorney, who is a constitutional attorney and a renowned New Yorker and has his own radio show, said no one will go after you, I guarantee.

GIBSON: Ron Kuby guaranteed that?

CASSIDY: Ron Kuby guaranteed that.

GIBSON: Ponytail and all?

CASSIDY: Ponytail and all.

GIBSON: Now, what is at the bottom of this? Why would the New York Fire Department issue such an egregious order?

CASSIDY: The fire commissioner, Nick Scoppetta, this is the way he does business. He's a former prosecutor. His idea is, I'll tell you what to do regardless of the rules. I'll tell you what to do and I'll make you do it that way.

My job as president of the union is to say, ho, this is unacceptable. We're not going to let you go this way. We've done this before. We have had fights with him before. This is just another one, unfortunately.

GIBSON: Well, take a look at the statement that came out today. It was about your interpretation of events. I guess you would say it was from Scoppetta, but it's from the fire department:

"Steve Cassidy was told last Thursday by the highest-ranking uniform chiefs in the FDNY that they had no intention of banning the U.S. flag or memorial cards for decreased firefighters from his members' lockers. His statements about the issue have been intentionally," intentionally, Steve, "intentionally insincere."

CASSIDY: That's silly. That's not what happened. More importantly, yesterday, when the department sent out their spokesman, they were asked by every reporter, The New York Times, every paper, are you going to amend the rules and tell them they can have American flags, mass cards, or whatever? Tell us what they can have.

"No, we don't have to put it in writing." That's their position on everything.

So my firefighters, who were forced to scrape these off their lockers, we want a policy that says what we're allowed to do, or what we're not allowed to do, and we'll take it from there.

GIBSON: Steve Cassidy, representing the New York City firefighters. Steve, thanks very much.

CASSIDY: Thank you.

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