FDNY: Cut Staff At 4 More Stations

Copyright 2002 Newsday, Inc.
Newsday (New York, NY)...04/02/2002

By William Murphy; STAFF WRITER; Staff writer Graham Rayman contributed to this story

To save $ 1.3M a year, the Fire Department plans to reduce staffing at four more engine companies to four firefighters per shift.

Unions representing firefighters and superior officers plan to testify today at a City Council hearing on the proposed cuts, which also include a reduction in the number of fire marshals, who investigate arsons.

The reduction in engine-company staffing would bring the total number of four-firefighter engine companies to 64, out of 210 citywide. The rest have five firefighters per shift.

The department has been operating 60 engine companies with the lower four-person staffing under an arbitration it won against the Uniformed Firefighters Association in 1989.

The unions say the change is inefficient, unsafe and a slap at firefighters after Sept. 11.

The department would not comment on the reports but did say the changes were necessary to save $ 460,000 this year and $ 1.3 million annually later to help balance the city budget.

"This is a morale-buster after 9/11. If something terrible happens again, it will fall on our shoulders again," said Michael Carter, first vice president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

Carter said that when he was a firefighter in Harlem years ago he saw firsthand how important it was to get a hose line in operation quickly.

Since one firefighter has to stand by the engine and monitor the pumps, the unit would be lacking two replacement firefighters to handle a hose line if the first two firefighters became fatigued, Carter said.

The department conducted tests at its Randalls Island training academy in 1987 and found that four firefighters took 50 to 75 percent longer to stretch a hose line than five firefighters.

A 1981 memo to then Fire Commissioner Charles J. Hynes from the office of the chief of department said the reduction to four firefighters on some engines during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s had hampered operations and created dangers for firefighters.

"The outcome, in a four-man unit, is that the three men performing the hose-stretching operations ... advance into the immediate fire area, operate under more hazardous conditions, stay a shorter period of time and have no one for relief," the memo said.

"This initially leads to a greater potential for injuries and finally results in the transmission of greater alarms to provide additional units for relief purposes," the memo said.

The increase response, in turn, "can seriously deplete" the number of units available to respond quickly to other fires.

Staff writer Graham Rayman contributed to this story