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Press Releases / 2009 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: DECEMBER 1, 2009


The Fire Department will reduce firefighter staffing on 49 engine companies beginning tomorrow in accordance with the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) labor contract that calls for the reduction if the overall firefighter absentee rate exceeds 7.5% on an annualized basis.

Firefighter medical leave rates have increased this year and reached 7.53% today, which allows the Department to reduce firefighter staffing from five to four on the 49 engines – the same staffing level on most engines throughout the city.

(Under the UFA contract, of the city’s 194 engine companies, 134 are staffed with four firefighters and 49 are staffed with five – as long as medical leave remains below 7.5%. Another 11 companies are always staffed with five firefighters, regardless of the medical leave numbers. In addition to firefighter staffing, there is a fire officer on every fire engine.)

Higher medical leave rates result in increased overtime expenses for the city. The “fifth” firefighter on 49 engines costs 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,” said Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta. “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.”

The staffing reductions will not affect fire response times, which – at 4:01 - are the fastest in city history.

This is the third time in the past seven years that the city has decreased engine company staffing due to high firefighter absentee rates.

No fire department in the country has five-firefighter staffing on engines.  Most big cities – including Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and Washington – have four or three.

At the beginning of each month the Fire Department reviews medical leave rates and, if the rate exceeds 7.5%, the staffing reduction can be made as per the UFA contract provision. The staffing reduction remains in place until the end of the month, when the medical leave rate is again reviewed to determine whether the staffing reduction continues or is modified. While the Fire Commissioner can reduce staffing once the 7.5% rate is exceeded, the contract calls for a mandatory staffing reduction if the rate reaches 7.6%.

The Department will again review the medical leave rate on January 1, 2010.


Press Contact: Francis X. Gribbon & Steve Ritea, (FDNY) (718) 999-2056


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