By Jennifer R Jones | Posted on January 03, 2010 12:00 PM
New Yorkers who read about the cuts in firefighting teams at engine companies last month can rest easier. Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano has restored the fifth member to teams that were reduced to four people. The change to a four-person team at approximately 49 out of the 194 engine companies across all five boroughs was made after a record number of firefighters called in sick during the last months of the year, taxing the overtime budget. (The companies that were affected the most significantly were those in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, with 15, 14, and 12 companies respectively.) The Fire Department insisted that the cuts wouldn’t affect response time to fires. The union, however, protested that reducing staff members increases the time it takes firefighters to start properly attacking the fire. By last December 1, the annual medical-leave rate for firefighters in the city had risen above 7.5 percent. That’s the number at which the New York Fire Department begins to cut staff. The Fire Department made these cuts for the third time in seven years. Since the cuts were made at about a quarter of the engine companies, however, absenteeism has been lowered significantly, by about sixteen percent, allowing staff to be added. The city has about 8,800 firefighters. The average number of them out of work during the last three months of November due to various forms of sickness was 500-700 people.