Councilman Demands Extra Firefighter on FDNY Engines During 'Code Blue' Weather

NY Post - January 06, 2020

by Rich Calder

With FDNY response times on the rise, a Brooklyn pol is turning up the heat on Mayor Bill de Blasio to reassign a fifth firefighter to all Big Apple engine companies whenever temperatures drop below freezing.

Councilman Justin Brannan (D–Brooklyn) told The Post he plans to introduce a non-binding resolution later this month demanding de Blasio and the fire department reinstate the extra firefighter for runs by all 198 of the city’s engine companies whenever officials declare a “Code Blue” weather emergency.

“Without fail, each year, the FDNY responds to more emergency calls than the year before,” Brannan said. “That’s why in extreme subzero temperatures, when the lives and homes of New Yorkers are on the line, a fifth firefighter would help New York’s Bravest put out fires safer and faster.

“Automatically adding the fifth man when a Code Blue Weather Emergency is called would just make sense,” he said, explaining that working with equipment can be tougher for smoke eaters when the mercury plummets.

The city issues the weather warnings whenever the wind-chill temperature drops to 32 degrees or below between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m. The city was in “Code Blue” alert for 110 days during the fiscal year ending June 30, officials said.

Brannan’s push comes as city response times to fires continue to soar.

Response times to structural fires rose from 4 minutes 20 seconds in FY 2018 to 4 minutes 28 seconds in FY 2019 — despite a citywide decline in those types of blazes from 27,280 to 26,207 over the same period, records show.

In fiscal 2013, during Mike Bloomberg’s final year as mayor, the average response time to 25,278 structural fires was 4 minutes 6 seconds.

Meanwhile, overall fire company runs have soared by 16.6 percent from 983,615 in FY 2013 to 1,146,803 in FY 2019.

No more than 60 engine companies at a time operated with five firefighters ever since cuts under the Koch administration in 1988. Under Bloomberg in 2011, the FDNY removed the fifth firefighter from every company, instead requiring that two engine companies of four firefighters respond to each call.

Critics say that method is flawed because it’s typically faster to put out a fire with a team of five as hoses can be unraveled easier. They also say that teams of four sometimes have to wait for another four-person unit to arrive minutes later to assist with heavy equipment so water could reach the fires.

Four years later, the de Blasio administration cut a deal with the city’s firefighters union to reinstate teams of five at 15 of the city’s busiest engine companies. Last year, five more companies received the added help.

Last year, Brannan introduced a more-pointed resolution calling on de Blasio to reassign the fifth firefighter year-round at all engine companies, saying the city should stop cutting corners at the expense of “saving lives.”

The city says it would cost about $100 million annually to bring back the extra firefighter full-time, but officials could not immediately provide a cost estimate for additional help limited to “Code Blue” days.

In response to Brannan’s plan, City Hall spokeswoman Laura Feyer fired back that“we continually evaluate the FDNY’s needs and believe that the current staffing protocol is safe and appropriate.”

Despite the rise in response times, the FDNY saw a 25-percent decrease in fire-related deaths in 2019 — with 66 people killed by blazes compared to 88 the previous year. The 88 fire fatalities in 2018 were the highest number in one year since 95 people were killed in 2007.