I might be broke and unemployed but even I wouldn’t want to change places with Long Beach Fire Chief Mike Duree right now, as he’s allegedly committed the ultimate sin for his profession and lied about participating in the 9/11 clean-up:
Long Beach Fire Chief Mike Duree is at the center of a controversy stemming from lies he reportedly told about his role following the 9/11 attacks and the authenticity of a piece of steel he claims came from Ground Zero.
“This was all a miscommunication and I am personally embarrassed and deeply regretful that this is a topic of conversation especially to those who gave their lives in New York, the last thing I would want to do is disrespect that,” Duree said Friday. “As a former active duty Marine, I understand the importance of respect.”
He denies making false statements and instead insists that he was misquoted in a blog post on sail-world.com covering the Heroes Regatta, an event created to honor first responders, including police and firefighters, especially those who gave their lives in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. The regatta was at the Long Beach Yacht Club in May.
According to the blog post, Duree said, “(a)fter 9/11 … we (LBFD) were asked to send a team to help with the search at the World Trade Center. I was part of that team. We spent two weeks there going through the rubble. I was allowed to keep this piece of twisted metal as a remembrance.”
That post has been deleted from Sail World’s website, but I screenshotted the cached version below
In case it isn’t clear, Duree is in trouble for two reasons:
1) Claiming that he and a LBFD team participated in the World Trade Center clean up (which is apparently not the case), and
2) Using an artifact from that disaster as a trophy for this regatta event (i.e. the reason that Sail World was talking to him in the first place).
Duree adamantly denies that he ever represented the piece of metal used for the trophy as an actual piece of steel from Ground Zero and said he was never interviewed by the author, Rick Roberts.
“We did talk throughout the day, but he never said he was talking to me for any sort of story,” Duree said. “And when I did see the article, I asked for a removal or a correction.”
Personally I find it hard to believe that a media-savvy, intelligent professional like Duree (whom for the record I’ve met on several occasions when I worked for the city) really didn’t know about what constitutes an “on the record” interview. Additionally the fact that Duree is just NOW asking for a correction (over four months AFTER the article was originally posted) undercuts his credibility on this issue. Frankly it seems that the Chief was engaging in the time-honored tradition of embellishing ones service record, something that in the military or public safety profession can get you into a world of shit if you’re ever caught.
Duree explained that shortly after the attacks, several firefighters, most with ties to New York including Deputy Chief Rich Brandt, went to help. A month later, a larger group of firefighters, including Duree, went to the site of the attacks and toured Ground Zero and attended funerals. They also presented donations raised locally for the New York first responders, but Duree denies he ever said they were working through The Pile.
The second issue regarding the “trophy” thing is also hard for Duree to deny, particularly as the Sail World folks got a picture of the debris in question:
Adding to this already problematic story for Duree is the presence on the LBFD of Brogan Healy, who’s first job out of the Fire Academy was with the NYFD. Healy’s first day on the job was 9/11, and if we’re judging his media skills by this 2002 NY Times article profiling him, he knows how to give a good interview and makes for an excellent spokesman for the “wtf Duree” side of the controversy. And this story is going to continue to grow, especially as national Firefighter blogs continue to spread the rather unseemly details of Duree’s alleged statements and actions.
However as we proceed into this story it’s worth mentioning why Duree would be subject to this attack now, instead of when the article was first published. It is entirely possible that (like most normal people) members of the LBFD at large, including folks like Healy who would be presumably most offended by it, simply don’t take to Sail World dot com on a regular basis. But the fact that Duree has been at the center of controversies over the re-arrangement of Long Beach’s Lifeguards on the new fireboats, the implementation of Rapid Medical Deployment, and host of other cost-cutting measures since 2012, makes one think that the Long Beach Firefighter’s Association is the main driver behind this story. (AS THEY SHOULD BE as a Union representing members in those aforementioned controversies).
Again nothing that has been presented so far effectively contradicts the allegation that Duree lied about his role or is lying about using the artifact as a trophy, but it is also fair to say that the current controversy would not have come to light if Duree (and to an extent Pat West) hadn’t been in such a contentious relationship with the Firefighter’s Union over the past few years.
As a resident of as someone who once worked in a policy position within the City of Long Beach I have to say that this story, while gross, doesn’t amount to grounds for firing Duree. That said these statements from Duree do present serious questions as to his character and veracity of his public testimony going further. In other words, perhaps we should all be a little more hesitant to believe the Chief the next time he says that RMD is working just fine, or similar contentions that require the public to more or less trust in his expert opinion.