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Friday, 26 October, 2001, 00:45 GMT 01:45 UK
Firefighters angry as hawkers cash in
NYFD caps
Street traders are profiting from the firefighters' heroism
Joseph Winter

The Fire Department of New York, FDNY, is taking legal action against manufacturers of unofficial merchandise which has flooded the city's streets since 11 September.

Firefighters have become America's new heroes since it emerged that while people were fleeing the burning World Trade Center, they were climbing up the stairs, trying to save lives.

Before 11 September, we couldn't give those hats away

New York police
When the two towers collapsed, 343 firefighters were buried underneath the rubble.

Now street traders have added imitation FDNY baseball caps, woollen hats and T-shirts to their traditional stock of I Love NY memorabilia.

Tourists and New Yorkers alike have been lapping them up.

But this has not gone down well with the FDNY, whose officially licensed products sell for around twice the price of those on the street.

Legal action

Fire Department spokesman David Billig told BBC News Online that the FDNY symbol was trademarked and lawyers had been engaged to pursue those manufacturing and selling unofficial goods.

The New York Fire Department says it is struggling to keep up with demand for products

"People are buying those hats in order to support the FDNY but when they buy them from the hawkers, the money just goes into their pockets," he said.

Mr Billig said that some of the proceeds from the sale of official merchandise would be used to help the widows and children of the firefighters who were killed on 11 September, while the rest would be used to educate the public about fire prevention.

But the unlicensed vendors do not seem to have affected business at the New York City Fire Museum, one of just three official outlets for FDNY souvenirs.

"Our sales have gone up 20 times. We're struggling to keep the stuff on the shelves," said a saleswoman.

The museum shop has started selling a model firefighter wearing a gas mask, with a United States flag stuck into his back-pack, in order to keep up with the new image of a patriotic fireman fighting anthrax.

Even Bloomingdales, one of New York's classiest department stores, has started selling official FDNY merchandise.

Business booming

In the streets around the World Trade Center ruins, traders are doing a brisk business in the unlicensed souvenirs.

Street trading
Police are unlikely to enforce a ban on selling unofficial souvenirs

"Not the NYPD[Police Department], I want the FDNY one," said one woman, pointing to a navy-blue T-shirt.

The trader, a recent immigrant from Senegal, dismissed the idea that he was selling fake goods.

"I'm not doing anything wrong," he said, before rushing off to serve the throng of customers around his table.

In any case, New York's street vendors are used to playing a game of cat-and-mouse with the police, who have tried for years to stop them selling their goods on pavements.

The Senegalese in particular are notorious for selling fake Rolex watches and they are unlikely to be put off by this latest threat.

New-found popularity

While FDNY souvenirs are selling best, traders also stock unofficial police T-shirts and people are buying these out of respect for the 23 police officers who died at the World Trade Center.

Tribute to firefighters
Profits from official merchandise go towards helping victims' families

But a police source said that, in contrast to the FDNY, they were not concerned about imitation NYPD merchandise "unless it resembles our uniform".

However, he was worried at the prospect of police officers being asked to enforce the FDNY ban, adding to their already heavy workload.

While firefighters have always enjoyed a certain respect from the general public, some police officers are glad that for once, people are now proud to be associated with the NYPD.

"Before 11 September, we couldn't give those hats away," said the police source.

See also:

23 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Firefighters raise money for US victims
19 Sep 01 | Americas
Fighting fires, not rubble
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