Arun Venugopal is a reporter and the creator of Micropolis, WNYC’s multi-platform series examining race, sexuality, religion, street life and other issues that define New York City. He has been with the station since 2005, and has covered a wide range of stories, including the death of Sean Bell, the controversy over the Park 51 mosque and community center and Occupy Wall Street .
Staffing Cuts Hindered FDNY Response, Claims Union
Sunday, February 20, 2011 - 08:23 PM
A fire that raged through a Brooklyn building Saturday and claimed the life of a 64-year-old woman has fueled the union's claims that staffing cuts put the public at risk -- even though the FDNY said manpower wasn't a factor in the fatal blaze.
More than 200 firefighters were called to the scene, and the fire was brought under control by Sunday morning. But UFA president Steve Cassidy said the fire would've been tamed much earlier if the Bloomberg administration hadn't reduced the number of firefighters at dozens of engine companies.
According to Cassidy, three of the first six engine companies that arrived on the scene were among those whose staffing levels had been reduced from five to four firefighters just three weeks ago. The reductions were made in order to save $30 million in overtime costs, according to the administration.
"The first engine company that operated alone for five minutes previously had five [firefighters], now had four," said Cassidy. "They had to stretch 400 feet of hose line. It took them an extra 4-1/2 to five minutes to begin to get water on that fire. That five minutes allowing this fire to grow and grow and grow is the reason this building is completely uninhabitable."
Ultimately, Cassidy said, the damages were "directly resulting from the mayor's cuts."
The FDNY, in a statement, said the problem was not manpower but an open door.
"With the door to the fire apartment left open, the fire was aided by last night’s extreme winds and spread out of the apartment and throughout the fourth floor," the FDNY said. "First arriving units, which were on scene in three minutes, never had a chance to extinguish the fire in the original apartment; and it quickly spread horizontally throughout the fourth floor, then vertically to the 5th and 6th floors, and ultimately through the roof.
"Contrary to the UFA's statement, it was the open door problem - greatly exacerbated by severe winds - that fueled this fire into an unstoppable conflagration, despite the efforts of more than 200 firefighters who battled it for more than nine hours."
Cassidy vowed to maintain pressure on the Bloomberg administration in the near future.
"We will do it in the public when we get the opportunity," he said. "The fact that this fire burned out of control for five hours I think highlights what can and will happen if the mayor does not reverse course and these staffing cuts aren't undone."