UFA: Idle Threat By FDNY to Cut Staffing Based on Sick Leave

Chief Leader - September 18, 2009

by ARI PAUL

The Uniformed Firefighters Association last week scoffed at a warning from Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta that excessive sick time from Firefighters could result in cutting staff at five-Firefighter engine companies.

The New York Post reported that Mr. Scoppetta issued a memo noting that 700 Firefighters were out sick in the last two months, meaning that 7.14 percent of front-line members on average were absent on any given day in the last six months. He warned, the Post reported, that if that rate rose above 7.5 percent, he would reduce 49 engine crews operating with five Firefighters to four.

'Another Scare Tactic'

The UFA strongly criticized the Fire Department's attempt to do away with the five-person engine companies that was scrapped in the last round of city budget negotiations. UFA health and safety officer William Romaka dismissed the Commissioner's threat as "another scare tactic."

Firefighters have unlimited sick days, but the department reserves the right to reduce the five-person engine companies if sick-day use becomes excessive.

"Firefighter medical leave is granted only by FDNY doctors who make the determination if a firefighter is physically able to work or must be assigned to light-duty status," UFA spokesman Thomas Butler said in an e-mail.

The UFA opposes the reduction in engine company staffing, citing a 1987 study by Deputy Chief Vincent Dunn who said that "an engine company with a crew of four is an ineffective basic unit of service delivery," noting that hose-stretch time was increased by 75 percent on four-Firefighter crews. Sixty-four engine companies operate with five Firefighters.