The FDNY plans to reduce staffing on 49 engine companies beginning today due to an increase in the firefighter absentee rate, according to a department press release.
The department says it is follwoing the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) labor contract that calls for the reduction if the overall absentee rate exceeds 7.5 percent annually.
According to the press release, firefighter medical leave rates have climbed this year and currently sit at 7.53 percent. The FDNY says it will reduce staff from five to four on the engines.
Under the UFA contract, of the city's 194 engine companies, 134 are staffed with four firefighters and 49 are staffed with five.
The department says the staffing reductions will not affect fire response times, which it says are currently the fastest in the city's history.
Union leaders have denounced the FDNY's decision, saying it will endanger New Yorkers' and firefighters' lives.
The union's president, Steve Cassidy, says the city has been lying to residents about response times.
"The city's deliberately false statistics are part of an attempt to justify closing firehouses in 2010. City Hall's Enron-style accounting now raises questions about other statistics they are trumpeting," he said in a statement.
The union also contends that the FDNY's own studies have shown that reducing manpower by just one firefighter, from 5 to 4, nearly doubles the time it takes to begin getting water on a fire.
The department said the decision was made due to the fact that the higher medical leave rates have resulted in increased overtime expenses. The city says the fifth firefighter on those engines has cost it approximately $20 million annually.
"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 the statement. "Increased medical leave is costing us more in overtime, and we're going to do everything we can to be fiscally prudent during these difficult economic times."
This is the third time in the past seven years that the city has decreased engine company staffing due to high firefighter absentee rates.
The staffing reduction will remain in place until the end of the month when the medical leave rate is reviewed to determine whether the staffing reduction continues or is modified.