Is it the Fire Department or the You’re Fired Department? That’s the question that a lot of Big Apple firefighters are asking this week. With the extended deadline for the Mayor’s vaccine mandate quickly approaching and no compromise agreement in sight, the union representing the FDNY is saying that they are preparing to close up to 20% of their stations around the city due to a lack of manpower. They will also be taking an equal portion of their ambulances out of service for the foreseeable future. Given that the department was already dealing with budget cuts and some stations that were understaffed, it’s impossible to see how they will be able to provide the customary level of coverage to their communities. One firefighter provided the New York Post with a simple, but grim assessment. “People are going to die.”
The FDNY is preparing to shutter as many as 20 percent of all Big Apple fire companies — and take an equal portion of its ambulances off the streets — ahead of the impending deadline for all city workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
On Wednesday, the FDNY said that just 65 percent of its firefighters, fire officers and EMS workers had been vaccinated despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s order that all city workers receive at least one dose or face suspension without pay on Monday.
“The Department must manage the unfortunate fact that a portion of our workforce has refused to comply with a vaccine mandate for all city employees,” Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said in a statement later Wednesday.
The Fire Commissioner is telling reporters that he will be relying on the same tools and tactics that police departments around the country have been resorting to. Those include mandatory overtime, extra shifts and requesting backup from suburban fire departments. But there are two significant flaws in that plan. First of all, when you work your people into the ground like that they will only last so long before low morale and exhaustion begin driving them to look for work elsewhere. And the other fire departments are under the same vaccine mandate as the FDNY, so they are losing people as well. It’s unlikely they will have many to spare.
More than a third of FDNY firefighters have failed to provide the required proof of vaccination. And it sounds as if Mayor Bill de Blasio is sticking to his guns and will allow the noncompliant firefighters to be put out of work. This is looking more and more like a case of Nero being literally willing to watch the city burn rather than compromise.
One Fire Chief told reporters that he expects to see response times to medical emergencies or structure fires increase, possibly doubling. The average response time for a medical emergency is currently a little over four minutes. He expects that the average could rise to more than seven minutes in cases where the EMTs have to be dispatched from a more distant station. And a difference of three or more minutes when someone has suffered a heart attack can literally be a matter of life or death. In the case of a building fire, that length of a delay could cost someone “a bedroom or the whole house.”
Yesterday, a Staten Island State Supreme Court justice shot down a request to issue an injunction against the vaccine mandate for firefighters and police. City Hall clearly plans to fight this thing to the last ditch. There are currently 37 percent of the city’s street cops and 35% of the firefighters who remain unvaccinated.
As one cop told the Post yesterday, the math behind all of this is pretty simple. “It’s an easy formula: Less cops equal more crime” It’s not much of a stretch to conclude that the same calculation applies to the FDNY. Fewer firefighters and EMTs mean longer-burning, more dangerous fires, and more people dying. And the municipal government is apparently willing to allow that to happen rather than admitting that they need to find a more civilized way to deal with emergency responders who refuse to be bullied into accepting a medical procedure that they are not comfortable with.