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Kevin Cullen

Praising Boston’s firefighters — because their bosses won’t

So Rod Fraser, the Boston fire commissioner, thinks his 13 deputy chiefs are unprofessional dinosaurs.

Nice.

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It was so refreshing to watch the Boston police brass — Commissioner Ed Davis, Chief Dan Linskey and Superintendent Bill Evans — go out of their way to praise the men and women of the police department who performed so heroically after the Patriots Day bombings.

But you didn’t see Fraser or his MIA chief Steve Abraira jumping at cameras and microphones to praise their department, the firefighters who, with their police and EMS brothers and sisters, performed herculean acts of bravery.

That’s because they don’t want us to think Boston firefighters are worth much. That would make it harder for them to dismantle the department, to change the practices that these so-called dinosaurs have perfected so that Boston has a ridiculously low death rate from fire.

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I never saw Commissioner Fraser and Chief Abraira stand before the cameras and praise the firefighters of Engine 7 and Tower Ladder 17, who dove into a sea of wounded people and saved lives. I never heard them praise Sean O’Brien, who knelt over the body of Martin Richard, knowing it was the boy who was so kind to his daughter in their third-grade class. O’Brien put aside his emotion and helped friends and strangers alike that day.

I never heard them praise Tommy Campbell from Tower Ladder 17, who carried a little boy who lost his leg to safety, whispering soothing words into the frightened boy’s ear while he and an EMS paramedic put a tourniquet on the boy’s leg to save his life.

Boston firefighters are far from perfect, and the department does need to change in some areas, but the way the brass is going about it is wrong.

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I never heard them praise Mike Materia, a great firefighter from Ladder 15 who ran down Boylston Street and swept up Roseann Sdoia from the sidewalk and saved her life.

I did hear Fraser call his deputies “dinosaurs” at a City Council hearing Thursday. He’s mad at them because they had the temerity to write a letter and say they have no confidence in Abraira. Fraser said the deputies were unprofessional because they leaked the letter.

Fraser’s beef with the letter is not with his deputies but with his boss, Mayor Tom Menino, whose office received the letter but didn’t tell either the commissioner or the chief about it. The deputies who gave the letter to me on Tuesday said no one from City Hall would respond to their concerns. The deputies sent copies of the letter to Menino at City Hall, the Parkman House, and his home in Hyde Park last week.

But Fraser wouldn’t back down, saying the deputies should have met with him first. I told Fraser the deputies went over his head because he won’t listen to their complaints about Abraira, that he won’t fire Abraira because that would mean admitting he made a mistake in hiring him in the first place.

Abraira, meanwhile, admitted to me that he has not visited Sean O’Brien or Tommy Campbell or Mike Materia or any of the firefighters who performed so heroically on that horrible day.

“I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to interject myself into that situation,” the chief said.

Why not just visit the firehouses and shake their hands?

“That’s a shortcoming on my part,” he acknowledged.

I told the chief that firefighters don’t think he respects them. For example, firefighters resent that he never attends retirement dinners. His predecessors routinely did.

“I’ve never been invited,” he said. “How am I supposed to know when and where they are?”

Um, actually there are no invitations. They just put fliers up on the bulletin board at Fire HQ on Southampton Street. There’s one there right now advertising a time at Florian Hall this Saturday for a bunch of firefighters retiring out of the Broadway firehouse down in the South End. Abraira walks past this bulletin board every day.

The reason the brass of the Boston Fire Department didn’t emulate the brass of the Boston Police Department and praise their members to the hilt is that they and their masters at City Hall believe doing so might make it harder for them to gut the department.

Because that’s what Fraser and Abraira, with Menino’s blessing, want to do.

So they will chalk up the letter from the city’s 13 deputy chiefs, expressing no confidence in Abraira, as just the bleats of narrow-minded, parochial jakes who are digging in their heels against any changes to their ranks or working conditions.

Boston firefighters are far from perfect, and the department does need to change in some areas, but the way the brass is going about it is wrong. Punishing firefighters because they do their job too well seems a pretty stupid management philosophy.

So what happens the next time there’s a disaster?

Well, presumably, you won’t see Chief Abraira. He was MIA the day of the bombings. That’s one of the reasons the deputies are so furious. Abraira said he didn’t assume command on the street after the bombings because everything was under control.

Is he serious? Firefighters and police officers were still searching for other potential explosive devices when Abraira was on Boylston Street.

If Boston firefighters followed Abraira’s policy of prioritizing firefighter safety over that of the public, then they should have run away when the bombs went off.

But because they are firefighters, they ran toward the danger, because that’s what real firefighters do.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.
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