Number of Serious Fires Grow in New York as FDNY Cuts Back on Manpower

NY Daily News - September 24, 2010

by Jonathan Lemire

The number of fires has increased across the city this year - particularly serious ones - and the tally could go even higher with expected FDNY manpower shortages, experts warned.

After years of sharp reductions, the number of major fires increased more than 3% in the first seven months of this year, FDNY statistics show. Fire deaths have dropped slightly and remain ahead of last year's record low pace.

But the jump in fires could be a warning sign for the FDNY, which is nearly 300 firefighters shy of its desired head count.

"The longer you stretch the firemen out, the more problems you're going to have," said Glenn Corbett, a fire science professor at John Jay College. "These men are working OT and could be spread too thin."

The city has been barred from hiring new firefighters until an agreement is reached with the federal judge who declared their entrance exams discriminatory to minority candidates. That could take up to a year.

The number of serious fires - those that require at least 65 firefighters - increased from 1,387 to 1,430 through July. The sharpest upticks were in Brooklyn and the Bronx.

"If the economy keeps getting worse, fires may keep creeping up," said Corbett. "People ... are using cheaper and less safe methods of heating ... like candles or space heaters."

There have been 44 fire deaths through last month, down from 46 during the same time a year ago. There were 59 during the first eight months of 2008, according to the FDNY.