February 2, 2005 -- Dozens of fire engines will be staffed with a fifth firefighter starting today, now that the number of firefighters on sick leave has dropped.
Under a 1996 agreement with the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the city is allowed to cut staffing on 49 engines from five firefighters to four when sick leave is higher than 7.5 percent.
As of yesterday, sick leave was at 7.49 percent, according to the Fire Department.
"The increase in staffing will allow for fire companies in all five boroughs to operate with the help of an additional firefighter during the busiest time of the Fire Department's year," Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said.
In December, the Fire Department decreased staffing levels on 49 engines because medical leave hit 7.54 percent.
Union officials welcomed the news yesterday.
"It's great that the manning has been restored for the month of February," said UFA president Steve Cassidy. "It's going to have a positive impact on public safety."
But he questioned why the city chooses to cut staffing since the 1996 agreement says it isn't mandatory.
"They don't have to do it," Cassidy said. "The agreement says it's a discretionary decision by the fire commissioner."
The Fire Department looks at sick-leave numbers on the first day of each month and makes a decision whether to cut or add staff to the engines.
But Cassidy argued that the threat of another terror attack is a good reason not to make any cuts.