In the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), most engine companies operate with four firefighters and an officer.
But under the current contract between the city and the firefighters’ union, twenty engine companies in busy areas throughout the city have a fifth firefighter. This extra firefighter plays a critical role, not only as a sort of wildcard that can be moved around as needed but as an extra set of hands stretching hose lines through city streets and into apartment buildings, high-rise offices, private homes, and storefronts.
A stipulation in the contract states that if the number of firefighters on medical leave reaches a certain threshold, the city can remove the fifth firefighter from these companies. The city was set to do so, but after the New York Post ran an expose on the planned staffing cuts, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio put a hold on the move and announced plans to meet with union and department leaders to come up with a new plan that would not endanger the lives of New Yorkers.
Something that is often overlooked when assessing the numbers of FDNY firefighters on medical leave are those that are still dealing with the side effects of their time at Ground Zero after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
“We have members that are sick but not sick enough to come off the job—they come down with nasal infections, bouts of breathing problems,” UFA president Gerard Fitzgerald said. “They do go sick a couple of times a year if not more, because of their service in 9/11. If [the city] were to exclude that, we would not be having that conversation about reducing the number.”