STATter 911 began hearing on Thursday that there was tension between City of Charleston officials and the IAFF. The difficulties prompted IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger to send out a message last week to IAFF leadership making sure the membership understood that Friday's memorial service was not an IAFF run event.
Schaitberger pointed out that the memorial service was organized by Jim Bowie, Executive Director of the South Carolina State Firefighters' Association. Schaitberger wrote that they have tangled in the past with Jim Bowie. According to Schaitberger, "Bowie does not like the IAFF, our state association or its president Mike Parrotta, because Mike has fought to improve standards in the state".
In the message, Schaitberger also said that Mayor Joseph Riley and Fire Chief Rusty Thomas are not "labor friendly" in what is an "openly anti-union city".
Despite getting this message on Thursday night, our judgement was not to run it until after the memorial service had been held. IAFF Assistant Press Secretary Bill Glanz also suggested in an email on Friday that STATter 911 not publish this until Saturday or Monday :
"... it wasn't meant for distribution beyond our internal structure. It was in response to significant questions about why certain decisions were made about the service that made many fire fighters unhappy because they can't attend or participate in the manner the fire service is used to. It would be inappropriate for it to be published outside while these funerals are going on."
Since then we discovered the message has been published on websites operated by IAFF locals and state organizations:
We have emailed a City of Charleston spokesperson looking for comments from Mayor Joe Riley, Chief Rusty Thomas or other officials. We have emailed Jim Bowie looking for his reaction. We have also requested comment from the IAFC.
Here is Harold Schaitberger's message:
Dear IAFF Leadership:
We are already hearing from our Leadership as well as many of our disappointed Brothers and Sisters from across the continent that the memorial service for the nine Charleston fire fighters, who died in the line of duty Monday evening, doesn't seem to be very organized and up to the IAFF’s normal standards for funerals and memorials.
The reason for this is simple. The IAFF is not in charge of this service. Let me be very clear and frank about the situation in Charleston. This is an openly anti-union city that is hostile towards the IAFF. The Chief and Mayor are not, as an understatement, labor friendly and believe they can do everything themselves. The Chief refused all assistance from the IAFC, and even refused assistance of the state USAR team.
The Chief and the Mayor have resisted any of our planning ideas and have refused all IAFF offers of assistance. They appointed the president of the state volunteers association, Jim Bowie, to run the entire memorial program. Bowie does not like the IAFF, our state association or its president Mike Parrotta, because Mike has fought to improve standards in the state. In fact, Bowie has been lobbying for lower (more volunteer friendly) standards. Bowie led the charge against the 2 in 2 out standard helping to establish the 2-in-1-out rule that prevails in South Carolina (the only state in the nation that doesn't follow OSHA standards of 2-in-2-out), and Bowie lobbied to make sure many buildings in the state were not required to be retrofitted for sprinklers.
Bowie is also the leader of the South Carolina first responders for Giuliani campaign and has attempted to make this memorial a platform for Rudy. We are fighting to keep this from becoming another political platform.
Regardless, we have our 12th District Vice President Larry Osborne, Mike Parrotta, and senior staff Jeff Zack, Rich Duffy and Pat Morrison on the ground and weighing in where they can. They are spending their time assisting Local 61 and our fallen families, but they are running into a brick wall on all decisions related to the memorial. Because of the situation, we also have limited access to the VIP area. Only principal officers, district vice presidents, and the South Carolina state leadership will have official access.
Bowie is making ALL of the decisions regarding this memorial. He has only allowed us to attend meetings where they are simply announcing the decisions that have been made. And he has summarily rejected any and all advice we have provided at every turn -- including that trying to do this memorial on Friday is way too soon.
We were informed that the FDNY Pipe and Drums had been invited by the Charleston Fire Department to play in the ceremony and that no other pipe bands would be allowed to play. If we had been involved, we would have coordinated the participation of other pipe bands. We were not party to or involved in this decision.
I ask the IAFF state and provincial presidents, in the states or provincials where there are pipe and drum corps or honor guards, to please contact these organizations to let them know that the IAFF had no control over the planning of this event.
This memo is meant to be very direct. I don't want us to pull any punches with our leadership or members on this unfortunate situation. When you hear a complaint from an affiliate, member, honor guard, pipe or drummer about this memorial, make sure to inform them that the IAFF has not been permitted to plan or to make any of the decisions regarding this event.
Harold A. Schaitberger
International Association of Fire Fighters
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As a former union officer and now a fire chief, it saddens me to see others try to use a tragic situation to benefit their personal agendas. Let us all pray for and continue to support the families, friends, and firefighting brothers and sisters. These disrupters will receive their due.
Written by WUSA 9
Courtesy of STATter 911