The Fire Department has cut staffing at 49 engine companies across the city - including seven in Queens, officials said.
The move was prompted by a provision in the FDNY labor contract that lets the city reduce staffing when the overall percentage of firefighters on medical leave reaches a certain percentage over a 12-month period.
"Medical leave rates have been rising for several months and we repeatedly warned the UFA this was a problem that could again result in the staffing reduction as outlined in their contract with the city," Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said in a statement. "Increased medical leave is costing us more in overtime, and we're going to do everything we can to be fiscally prudent in these difficult economic times."
One staff member has been cut from each of the 49 affected engine companies, leaving them with four firefighters. Ladder companies, which are staffed with five firefighters at all times, have not been affected.
Eleven engine companies throughout the city, including Engine 298 in Jamaica and Engine 324 in Rego Park, will continue to be manned by five firefighters, according to a spokesman from the FDNY, although the reason for this was not provided.
Leaders from the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which represents 9,000 New York firefighters, denounced the decision, claiming the city has been lying about response times generated by its failed UCT dispatch system and claiming FDNY-conducted studies had concluded that reducing manpower by just one firefighter nearly doubled the time it took to put out a fire.
"The city's deliberately false statistics are part of an attempt to justify closing firehouses in 2010," said UFA president Steve Cassidy. "City Hall's Enron-style accounting now raises questions about other statistics they are trumpeting."