It's delicate, talking about salaries with the grief still raw and the memorials continuing. One firefighter, a white thirtysomething from Engine 37 in Harlem, said his feeling was so unpopular he didn't want his name used. "I don't want a raise because 300 firemen died." In other words, to him it's blood money.
How a grateful city suddenly in economic crisis will ultimately valueor even discussa new contract is a question for the next mayor. Firefighters like Bob Barrett, 60, a 27-year veteran from Soho's Ladder 20, who plans to vote against the current contract terms,voiced conflicting emotions. "This isn't a matter of just money," he said at a Greenwich Village fundraiser in the Fiddlesticks tavern. "It's a matter of principle. We want a certain value placed on us. It took 103 floors to fall on our head for people to say, 'Wow, these guys are heroes.' I always knew that." His company at 253 Lafayette Street lost seven men.
photo: American Social History Project/Old York Library, The Graduate Center, CUNY
"The only good thing to come of this is people walking by and saying, 'I was always afraid to talk to you.' I say, 'Why?' Then they thank me. I want to thank them back, because I don't feel I'm the only one suffering. The whole neighborhood is suffering with us."
And maybe the men at Engine Company 74 are pouring milk from that new coffee creamer.