The firefighters' union cast a unanimous vote of "no confidence" Tuesday against Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, who dismissed the symbolic vote against him as a ploy made by the union’s leadership to help win re-election.
The Uniformed Firefighters Association approved a list of 14 grievances, including the lack of a new contract and what it says are exceedingly harsh discipline codes.
The union is also upset by the Fire Department's recent staffing changes in response to the high rate of medical leave, as allowed under contract. Last week, 49 engine companies were cut to four firefighters on each truck, leaving just 11 of the city’s 197 engine companies with five-man crews.
"We can't reduce manpower now; we absolutely can't," said UFA President Stephen Cassidy. "We're going into the busiest season of the year, the most difficult firefighting season. You know, frozen hydrants, delays, bad conditions, and we're gonna reduce manpower now and reduce firefighter safety? It's outrageous and it reflects someone who doesn't understand what firefighters do."
Tuesday’s vote does not have any formal consequences, but Cassidy says Scoppetta should take notice.
"My membership was loud and clear today; they have no confidence in the commissioner,” said Cassidy. “It’s not just about manpower, but this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. What he did to us last week compromises our safety every single day. We don’t know how he can sleep at night."
"If you're not gonna be behind us then maybe you should resign," said firefighter Ron Calcagno of Engine 253. "If you're not gonna back firefighters and give us the manpower we need and the resources that we need to fight fires and also terrorism, and everything else that's out there, then maybe he should step down."
But Scoppetta is fighting back. He says Cassidy is trying to pander to the union since he's up for re-election next year.
“It’s very hard for me to imagine any substantive reason for Steve Cassidy taking the position he’s taking other than the fact that he's running for re-election and he's looking for issues for his campaign," said the fire commissioner.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg also downplayed the criticism, and said the union needs to start policing its members better before criticizing the chief.
“Scoppetta is doing exactly what he should do,” Bloomberg said Tuesday. “We will not tolerate turning a firehouse into a brothel. We’re not going to tolerate firefighters drinking when they’re on the job. We absolutely will not tolerate anyone who's on drugs driving a fire engine.”.