Firefighter Union Sues City to Stop Fire House Staff Cuts
The Uniformed Firefighters Association has served the City of New York and the Fire Department with a lawsuit to stop the city's efforts to eliminate the fifth firefighter on 53 Engine Companies throughout the City. Such a reduction will leave New York with only 11 engine companies operating with a full staff of five firefighters compared with the 1980's, when 140 of the city's 210 engine Companies had the fifth man. The FDNY cuts are scheduled to occur Jan. 2, 2003.
The UFA's case against the city will be argued in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Thursday, Dec. 19, at 9:30 a.m. The FDNY is contractually obligated to maintain a minimum of 60 five-man engine companies throughout the five boroughs, unless firefighters' sick leaves exceeds 7.5 percent, which it has recently due to World Trade Center related illnesses, an FDNY hiring freeze and a high firefighter retirement rate that exceeds two times normal levels.
The UFA suit points out that the department's calculation of sick leave is skewered as result of the current citywide 600 firefighter understaffing level, compounded by the hiring freeze. But even more troublesome, the department is including in its sick leave calculations hundreds of firefighters -- many who may be forced to retire -- because they are suffering serious illnesses as result of working down at the World Trade Center during and after the collapse.
The suit states that Firefighters worked for long periods of time sifting through the rubble at Ground Zero without respiratory and other vital protective equipment being issued to them by the FDNY. "The Department permitted firefighters to work at the scene or in close proximity to it, with inadequate respiratory protection for days...many had no respiratory protection at all. "Based upon information and belief, which unfortunately the Department evidently refuses to verify, close to 1,000 firefighters are or have been on sick leave as a consequence of Ground Zero-related problems. This obviously impacts any medical leave formula that the Department wishes to calculate."
A significant "number of firefighters have had some form of serious breathing or respiratory problem attributable to inhaling toxic fumes, dust and particles emanating from Ground Zero," the suit continues. It is estimated that some 300 to 500 firefighters are disabled with what is dubbed the "WTC Cough" and it is likely many of them will be forced to retire.
"The Department should not and cannot legally use World Trade Center medical leave statistics against us to reduce the number of five firefighters engine companies," the suit also says. "There is something definitely wrong with such a concept. Using these sick leave causes in the calculation of the average absence rate to avoid the City's responsibilities under the minimum manning Settlement and Department regulation is unconscionable." However, despite repeated requests from the union, written communication to the commissioner and a Nov. 5 Freedom of Information Request by the UFA, the FDNY has refused to provide any information concerning their calculation or details of firefighter sicknesses. Instead the department has unilaterally decided to make the cuts without considering the actions by FDNY management contributed to the current situation.
"The city and the FDNY are not only in violation of a collective bargaining agreement negotiated in good faith with the UFA, but now they have the gall to penalize firefighters for being dedicated civil servants who actually put their lives and physical health on the line by reporting to and working during and after the collapse of the Twin Towers," said Stephen Cassidy. "It is nothing more than a moral disgrace that the Bloomberg Administration is telling New Yorkers that because firefighters bravely did their job and because the city was in fact negligent by failing to provide proper protective equipment to firefighters that they will now be forced to face greater risks doing their duty every day."
Currently, with five-man engines, one ladder and one Engine Company are sent. Where only four FFs are available to stretch a hose, two engines must be dispatched. This will compromise firefighters' safety, as well as require the first arriving company with four firefighters to wait for the second company to arrive before getting water on the fire. On Dec. 17 the Mayor and FDNY's Chief of Operations Cassano, announced that citywide response time in 2002 stood at four minutes, 13 seconds. But, in reality, after a reduction to four FF engine companies it might actually take 14 minutes and 36 seconds on average before firefighters will be able to get the first water on any fire to begin battling it. (See Hose Stretch Chart Attached -- page #4 of 4)
According to the FDNY's own study, once a five-man engine company arrives at a fire scene, it takes five minutes, 50 seconds more to stretch a hose line to the fifth floor of a fire. When that same company is reduced to four, it takes 10 minutes, 23 seconds more - or about twice as long -- just to start getting water on a fire. Add the average response time of 4:13 on to that number and it would take almost 15 minutes before the FDNY can even begin battling the fire.
The suit states, "To permit the Fire Department to perform understaffed would cause irreparable damage to members of the Department and to the residents of the City of New York. Public safety should not be subject to unreasonable fiscal restraints. Although the desire to maintain a balanced budget is admirable, public safety should not be compromised. The Fire Department has a duty to protect members of the public and its employees," Cassidy added. "It is shameful that the city is throwing safety to the wind in the name of fiscal constraints and is willing to endanger the lives of civilians and firefighters to do so. By turning to the courts we are acting as trustees for the safety and protection of our members, their families but also every New Yorker who may need the protection of firefighters in the future."
"In a serious fire situation, an extra five minutes will be the difference between life and death," said Cassidy. "I ask the decision makers at City Hall: Which one of you will be brave enough at the next firefighter or civilian funeral to take the blame for this irresponsible and irrational bean counter decision? We can and will not take the city's efforts to gamble with firefighters lives lightly!"
(See Hose Stretch Chart Attached Below)
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Hose Stretch Chart:
Average Time Before Firefighters Can Begin Fighting a Fire with Proposed Reductions to Four Man Engine Companies
On Dec. 17 the Bloomberg Administration and FDNY announced that citywide Fire Department response time was reduced to an average of 4 minutes and 13 seconds. In light of City's decision to eliminate the fifth man at fire companies citywide, what do those numbers actually mean? (source: FDNY, Chief Dunn Report)
CURRENT FIVE FF ENGINE COMPANY AVERAGE:
Length of time for a five-man engine company to stretch hose to fifth floor of a fire: 5 minutes & 50 seconds
Current Actual Total Time including response & operational time
to start getting water on fire: 10 minutes & 03 seconds
PROPOSED FOUR FF ENGINE COMPANY AVERAGE:Response Time (Time for fire company to arrive at the curb outside the fire/emergency address): 4 minutes & 13 seconds
Length of time for four-man engine company to stretch hose line to fifth floor of a fire: 10 minutes & 23 seconds
Actual Total time including response & operational time to start getting water on fire: 14 minutes & 36 seconds
TIME INCREASE FIRES WILL BE ALLOWED TO BURN & SPREAD UNDER BLOOMBERG PROPOSAL:
By reducing Engine Companies throughout the city to Four Man companies, the increase in time will allow fires to burn and spread for:
an extra 4 minutes & 33 seconds
before firefighters can actually begin putting water on a fire to fight it.
THIS PLAN ENDENGERS CIVILIAN & FIREFIGHTER LIVES!!
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Joseph A. Miccio
Stephen J. Cassidy