NYC firehouses already shutting down over vaccine mandate

In this photo provided by the FDNY, firefighters battle a blaze at a building in the Bronx borough of New York, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. (FDNY via AP)

On Thursday, we looked at the possibility that the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) might need to close up to 20% of the firehouses in Gotham due to manpower shortages caused by the city’s vaccine mandate for municipal employees. It was similarly possible that they would need to take an equal portion of ambulances out of service. This caused a great deal of consternation across the five boroughs because of the threat of increased response times for structural fires and medical emergencies. Well, as the old saying goes, that didn’t take long at all. By yesterday morning, the FDNY was already in the process of shutting down no less than 26 fire stations, impacting all five boroughs. And more may be on the way. (NY Post)

The FDNY shut down 26 firehouses across the Big Apple as of 7:30 a.m. Saturday because of staff shortages caused by the vaccination mandate, The Post has learned.

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican who represents Staten Island and Brooklyn, tweeted Saturday that five of the companies were in her district — and said it’s Hizzoner who could have blood on his hands.

“If someone dies due to a slower emergency response, it’s on Bill de Blasio and his overreaching mandates. I hope this fool fixes it ASAP!” she tweeted.

There is a partial list of the shuttered fire stations at the link and the FDNY does seem to have done the best they could to scatter the closures out as much as possible to minimize the total impact on any given district. But some of the closures will probably be more problematic than others. For example, Engine 231 in Brownsville is now closed. Brownsville is infamous for being one of the most crime-ridden, dangerous neighborhoods in the country, and municipal services to that area were already scarce. Response times there for both police and firefighters are longer than in other parts of the city, so losing that fire station – even temporarily – poses a measurable risk.

The finger-pointing over these closures began immediately. Republicans on the City Council were quick to blast Mayor Bill de Blasio for his inflexibility on the vaccine mandates. One member claimed that the Mayor will have “blood on his hands” if anyone dies in a fire or because EMTs didn’t reach a medical emergency promptly. Another, Councilman Joe Borelli of Staten Island, said, “The firefighters who are unable to work have all been tested within the week and are not Covid positive, and I doubt New Yorkers care about the vaccine status of the person applying defibrillators to their chest.”

Strangely, the Mayor seems more than willing to blame the FDNY and the NYPD. He has already implied that this is some sort of “stunt” intended to build public resistance to the vaccine mandates. While I have no doubt that the unions for both the firefighters and the NYPD wouldn’t mind some headlines putting pressure on de Blasio to compromise, what else were they supposed to do? They just lost more than a quarter of their workforce. You can’t send out a firetruck to battle a blaze without a minimum number of firefighters to operate all of the equipment. They’re consolidating their people in a way that will allow for the largest number of trucks possible to be ready to hit the road.

Amid all of this chaos, de Blasio continues to insist that there will be no compromise and he will not extend the deadline for vaccinations. Yet there’s one question that the unvaccinated first responders keep asking the Mayor but he’s yet to even attempt to answer. Up until Friday, all of those people were showing up for work and providing weekly negative COVID test results. There has been no measurable spike in new cases among the NYPD or FDNY, just as there hasn’t been with the general public. If that system was functional for months on end, what made it suddenly become dysfunctional at midnight on Friday?

It’s a good question, and one that de Blasio needs to answer for all of the residents of the Big Apple, not just the cops and firefighters. For the moment it remains more of a political discussion. But as some members of the City Council have already pointed out, if someone in Brownsville dies in a fire where it took the firetrucks an extra seven minutes to arrive from a more distant location, the conversation is going to change rapidly.