As of midnight, February 1, with the expiration of a 15-year agreement, the Fire Department will reduce staffing on 60 of its engine companies.
There will be one less firefighter on these companies, so that all 194 engines in the city will be staffed with four firefighters and one officer.
The FDNY assures that 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) expired.
“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.
But just hours after the contract expired, the UFA, together with the Uniformed Fire Officers Association (UFOA) filed legal action to stop Mayor Bloomberg from reducing firefighter staffing levels at the busiest firehouses across New York City.
“Reducing staffing levels in firehouses costs the city more than it saves,” said Steve Cassidy, UFA president. “It’s pretty simple math: when you reduce firefighter staffing by one firefighter it doubles the time it takes to begin getting water on a fire and allows fires to double in size every minute. As fires grow, so will smoke, fire and water damage to properties and businesses that the mayor needs to pay taxes.
“Second these cuts will diminish FDNY ladder companies’ ability to conduct search, rescue and recovery and will eliminate the firefighting position that effectuates 70 percent of all civilian rescues. The triple edge of this cut will harm not only firefighters, but communities across the city, crippling store owners, employers and landlords who are likely to see greater damage to their property and businesses.”
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.
The FDNY points out that no other fire department in the country operates with five firefighters on an engine.