Staffing at dozens of the city’s busiest FDNY engine companies will be cut starting February 1st, in a cost-saving move that the firefighters union argues will compromise public safety.
One firefighter will be removed from 60 of the city’s 194 engine companies once an agreement with the Uniformed Firefighters Association expires at midnight Tuesday.
The agreement – in place since 1996 – provided for those 60 engine companies to have a fifth firefighter plus a lieutenant – an arrangement that the union says allows crews to get water on a fire quicker.
Those 60 engine companies, which have a high volume of emergencies, will now be left with four firefighters and an officer – the same staffing as the FDNY’s 134 other engine companies.
FDNY expects to save about $30 million a year by not having to pay overtime to staff the extra firefighters, officials said. No firefighters will be laid off as a result of the change.
The UFA is fighting to reverse the staffing reduction by filing a petition with the city’s Office of Labor Relations.
UFA President Steve Cassidy stated, “Reducing staffing levels in firehouses costs the city more than it saves,” he said in a statement Monday.”We will have larger, more expansive fires that will cost the city of New York more money in the end–and that is unacceptable for public safety and firefighter safety.”
FDNY Commissioner Salvatore Cassano defended the staffing reduction according to published sources. “We just recorded the fewest fire deaths on record, and our response time to fires is the fastest ever,” he said, citing data from 2010.
The Commissioner stated FDNY has systems in place to address reduced staffing, including a protocol that calls for two engine companies, not one, to operate a hose line at a fire and went on to state that FDNY’s number one commitment to this city has always been and continues to be the safety of New Yorkers
The FDNY Press Release issued on January 31, 2011 read as follows:
Beginning tomorrow, February 1, the FDNY will reduce staffing by one firefighter on 60 of its engine companies so that all 194 engines in the city will be staffed with four firefighters and one officer. No firefighters will be laid off as a result of this change, which will provide savings of approximately $30 million in overtime that is currently needed to staff the fifth firefighter position. The change comes as the FDNY’s 15-year agreement with the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) expires at midnight tonight.
“We just recorded the fewest fire deaths on record and our response time to fires is the fastest ever,” Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano said. “Our number one commitment to this city has always been and continues to be the safety of New Yorkers.”
The Department proposed the staffing reduction in last year’s budget and the city gave notice to the UFA months ago that it would not be continuing the agreement, known as “Roster Staffing,” that provided for the “fifth” firefighter on 60 engines.
The FDNY has existing operational protocols to address reduced staffing on engine and ladder companies, including when firefighters go on medical leave during a tour. The city’s 143 ladder companies will continue to be staffed with five firefighters and an officer at the start of the tour. Also, Department protocol calls for two engine companies – not one – to stretch and operate a hose line at a fire.
The city has in the last seven years reduced the 60 engine staffing level four times due to high rates of firefighter medical leave, a change provided for in the original 1996 Roster Staffing agreement.
No other fire department in the country operates with five firefighters on an engine.