UFA Links Rise in Burns to Cut in Engine Crews

Chief Leader - September 27, 2011

by FLORA FAIR

Firefighter burns have nearly doubled compared to last year and the Uniformed Firefighters Association said it saw the trouble coming once staffing was reduced on engine companies in February.

According to the Mayor's Management Report, Firefighter burn injuries increased 45 percent between Fiscal Year 2010 and 2011, from 240 to 347.

"We predicted that these kinds of injuries would increase," UFA President Steve Cassidy said. "Unfortunately this report bears that out." In February, the Fire Department let its Roster Staffing Agreement with the UFA expire. The agreement maintained five-person staffing at 60 of the city's busiest engine companies, and also provided a pool of Firefighters to cover shifts at shorthanded four-person companies. The UFA had warned that the resulting staff shortage would inevitably lead to more severe fires and more injuries. 'Rise Corresponds With Reduction'

"When you look at, it's a 12-month snapshot," Mr. Cassidy said of the report. "[Firefighter burns] are up 45 percent, but almost all of that is in the five months after the reduction in staffing, and I think that speaks for itself."

The department said the staffing change would save nearly $30 million in FY2012, but the fire unions argued that fewer Firefighters would lead to bigger and more-dangerous fires, since it would take longer to get water on the fire. When fewer Firefighters are available to stretch a hose line, a fire grows exponentially. "Fire hasn't changed in thousands of years," Mr. Cassidy said. "It is consuming fuel--it is just going to start eating anything it can."

"Yes, they're up, but we've also had a spike in fires," FDNY spokesman Frank Gribbon said of the burn injuries. He cited statistics for February 2010, when there were 11 Firefighter burns reported, versus 54 burns in February 2011. Mr. Gribbon attributed this jump, in part, to a severe fire in Flatbush that he said accounted for about half of the burns for that month. Even without that fire, however, the burn rated more than doubled from a year earlier.

But linking the burn increase to more serious fires actually supports Mr. Cassidy's point. "The reality is you're fighting larger fires," Mr. Cassidy said. The report also indicates that instances of structural fires have decreased slightly--from 26,595 in FY2010 to 26,432 in FY2011-- but serious fires have increased 14 percent.

UFA: It's No Coincidence

"They want to pretend it's not common sense," Mr. Cassidy said. "The results are going to be increased injuries to Firefighters, including burn injuries."

The UFA plans to use these statistics in the upcoming hearing over termination of the Roster Staffing Agreement, which is still in the discovery phase. After the UFA filed an improper practice petition in January, the Board of Collective Bargaining ruled that letting the contract lapse didn't violate collective-bargaining rules, but that there is evidence that the resulting reduction in staff has affected Firefighter safety. The hearing date has yet to be set.

"Our job, regardless of what the conditions are, is to get in there quickly and put the fire out," Mr. Cassidy said. "My members are going to continue to do their job and we'll live with the consequences."