NY Post - July 19, 2018by Justin Brannan
Just a few days into my tenure on the City Council, I responded to the scene of a bad fire raging in my district.
It was a brutally cold January night, the winds were whipping and the hydrants were frozen solid. One of the first things New York’s Bravest mentioned to me on the scene was how, in subzero temperatures, when the homes and lives of New Yorkers were on the line, a fifth man on the engine was more crucial than ever to keep the fire in check.
While nearly everything in New York City changes over time, one constant remains: Firefighters constantly face new challenges that make their job more and more dangerous. And they need more, not less, support to keep us all safe.
Yet it’s far from clear the city has gotten that message. Indeed, if, as rumored, the FDNY removes the fifth man from all Group 2 Engines, it will prove a costly and dangerous mistake on the department’s part and put the lives of countless New Yorkers at risk.
To understand why, a bit of history is useful. During the 1970s, New York had five firefighters on every engine responding to a fire, allowing the team to more quickly unravel the hose and get water on the fire.
With the challenges of the 1970s in the rearview mirror, the Bloomberg administration a decade ago removed the fifth firefighter from all companies and instead mandated that two engines of four men respond to each dispatch.
The most recent agreement with the de Blasio administration allows for 15 engine companies to be staffed with a fifth man and leaves open the possibility for more engines to regain the extra man in the coming years.
Faster, please. Today, congestion and construction on our city streets are hampering emergency responders, making fires more dangerous than ever before. The decision to eliminate the fifth firefighter has more often than not resulted in one four-man engine arriving to a fire while the second navigates the crowded city streets and arrives precious minutes later.
This leaves a four-man crew responsible for getting water on the fire in the same time and efficiency as one with five. While the first crew is fighting, other areas of the city are vulnerable while the second engine heads to the scene to assist.
The city itself acknowledged the importance of the fifth man last winter when it reinstated the fifth man to deal with deadly fires in winter conditions despite no contractual obligation to do so. Furthermore, given the extreme summer temperatures and the fact that the FDNY is on pace to shatter last year’s run record, the constant removal and reinstatement of the fifth man endangers not only firefighters, but the residents of New York City — and sows chaos and uncertainty.
Since 2010 alone our city has added half a million new residents. From DUMBO to Long Island City, larger and larger residential towers are being erected. New York is growing at an unprecedented rate, even in a city where continuous expansion is the norm.
Today’s run load for firefighters cannot be handled with four-man engines. By returning to 1970s-style, citywide fifth-man staffing, New York would actually free up one-third of its engines to respond to additional emergencies.
As a member of the New York City Council’s Committee on Fire and Emergency Management, I know all too well the challenges our firefighters face. We deserve a fire department that is prepared to deal with the challenges of protecting the greatest city in the world — and that starts with reinstating a fifth firefighter to every single company immediately.
I intend to work with the FDNY, the Uniformed Firefighters Association and our partners across the city to address this issue, and I won’t stop until the citizens of the great city of New York get the protection they deserve.
Justin Brannan, a Democrat, represents Bay Ridge.