The New York City Fire Department says staffing cutbacks have begun in response to a rising number of firefighters calling in sick. The annual firefighter absentee rate reached 7.5 percent, allowing Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta to make staffing cuts on 49 engine companies.
The FDNY says high absentee rates add to the cost of overtime needed to cover the shifts.
Under its contract with the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the department can reduce the number of firefighters on engines from five to four.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the move could save the city up to $20 million annually.
"We cannot afford the 15 or 20 million dollars in extra overtime it's cost us to replace those who don't come in for their regular shifts," Bloomberg said.
The cuts leave just 11 companies in the city staffed by five firefighters.
The union says it disagrees with the way the city calculates the total of ill and injured firefighters and says the cutbacks endanger the public.
"If we don't have five-man ladder companies opening up the roofs, and making rescues. If there is no OV or no roof man, people's lives will surely be lost," said UFA President Steve Cassidy. "It is a critical, integral part of fire operations in New York City and the fire department wants to pretend that it's not going to be impacted."
This is the third time the department has decreased staffing because of high absentee rates, most recently in 2004.
The department will review the rate at the end of the month.