City Hall cuts in FDNY are danger to city

NY Daily News - December 28, 2004

by STEVE CASSIDY

There are some things about fire safety that New Yorkers need to know, most notably the impact of reduced firehouse staffing on public safety.

The Fire Department recently cut staffing by 20% in more than 100 communities throughout the city. City Hall says the reductions are in response to firefighters not showing up for work. That is a lie. Firefighters' medical leave must be approved by the department's own doctors; firefighters can't just call in sick.

Further, the department's tragic losses of 9/11 have led to a newer, more inexperienced leadership. This inexperience leads to unsafe policies and more injuries fighting fires.

Since the staff reductions, the time it takes to begin lifesaving operations has grown exponentially. In the past few days, there have been five civilian fatalities, more than 40 civilians seriously injured and six firefighters hospitalized - all due to the policy of staffing fire engines with four firefighters instead of five.

City Hall's cuts have gotten so bad that the FDNY is ordering trucks with as few as two firefighters to respond to fires. This is unacceptable and endangers civilian and firefighter lives.

City Hall's talk about response times is deliberately misleading. One understaffed fire truck outside a burning building can't get the job done. Fire trucks don't put out fires or rescue civilians - firefighters do.

According to the FDNY's own studies, reducing manpower to these levels actually doubles the time it takes to begin lifesaving operations. This means in a community where response time is about five minutes, you need to add almost an additional 10 minutes for firefighters to begin extinguishing the fire.

More than 100 civilians perished in a nightclub fire in West Warwick, R.I., last year when two firefighters showed up on a truck and were too understaffed to rescue those trapped inside. I hope it won't take a tragedy like the Happy Land Social Club fire of 1990 for the mayor and fire commissioner to admit they are wrong about cutting staffing in a city that, according to the Census Bureau, has increased in population by 10% since 2000.

In Jackson Heights, Queens, where one of the five fatal fires occurred, residents haven't seen an increase in fire protection levels in 75 years dating to when Queens was sparsely populated.

In the wake of the five civilian deaths and 40 injuries of recent days, not to mention several hospitalized firefighters, New Yorkers need to know the real facts, not just City Hall's propaganda.

Cassidy is president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York.