The Fire Department is facing the very serious choice of closing firehouses or cut staffing on fire engines. NY1's Amanda Farinacci filed the following report, which includes exclusive details on the department's reaction.
The writing is not only on the wall - it is being documented in memos.
NY1 acquired an internal memo from the city Fire Department, written by Chief of Department Salvatore Cassano to fire officials just hours after Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered his so-called "doomsday" city budget Friday. Cassano writes very starkly, "The news for the Fire Department is not good."
The memo says four fire companies that already have been closed at night will close completely by July 1. Another seven fire companies will be disbanded and 30 ambulance tours will be eliminated by July 1.
Yet another five fire companies will be disbanded on January 1, 2010.
Fire investigations also will suffer. The department plans to eliminate 27 fire marshal jobs and five supervisors through attrition.
In his budget address, the mayor did not go into any of those details, but he offered this alternative to closing the 16 companies.
"We think a better solution, and one we will work with the firefighters' union is, to go from the six-person manning on 64 engines, go from five firefighters to four firefighters.
Of the 197 fire engines that operate all over the city, 64 of them have five firefighters instead of four, as required under the union contract agreement.
Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steve Cassidy did not tell NY1 that he would not compromise on the issue, but he did stress the importance of having five firefighters.
"Manning is critically important to us, and I don't see a scenario where we say that manning doesn't matter, because we know it does," said Cassidy. "So I'm willing to listen to what they have to say, but I know how strongly we feel about manning. Any reduction in manning will compromise fire safety and public safety."
The companies now staffed with five firefighters per engine are located in neighborhoods where most buildings do not have elevators, and the additional manpower has been considered crucial to stretching a hose line to get water on the fire.
Uniformed Fire Officers Association President Jack McDonnell says FDNY will be forced to change how it operates.
"Standard operating procedures will have to be drastically changed. Upon the confirmation of smoke or a confirmed fire, they're going to have to ask for more companies, very quickly, don't delay,' said McDonnell.
Both fire union presidents say they plan to meet with the mayor in coming days to talk about the proposed budget, and come up with ways to save money without closing companies or reducing staffing.
Republished with permission from NY1