FDNY shifts manpower as Brooklyn firehouses face staffing shortage post-mandate

Firefighters battled a two-alarm fire on Kingston Avenue Monday night.
Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

The vaccine mandate for almost all municipal employees has gone into effect, and while many Brooklyn firehouses have faced staffing shortages in its aftermath, reports of some “closures” have been mildly exaggerated.

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, who represents Staten Island and a sliver of South Brooklyn, claimed Monday that Engine 243/Ladder 168 in Bath Beach had gone out of service as unvaxxed crew members were turned away. The Uniformed Firefighters Association, the union representing most firefighters, made the same claim on Twitter.

An FDNY spokesperson denied that Engine 243 was out of service, but said Ladder 168 was not in commission Monday afternoon due to a “shortage of staffing.”

The spokesperson, Jim Long, explained that the department shifts manpower and resources between firehouses in the event of company shutdowns, which he categorized as relatively common even outside of the mandate context owing to things like trainings or routine maintenance of equipment.

“Units out of service are not a new thing to us,” Long said. “Today’s reason is somewhat different and unexperienced before, but we are managing this scenario.”

Unvaccinated workers were told Monday morning to go home on unpaid leave until they finally roll up their sleeves and get the shot. The bulk of them seemed to come from the FDNY firefighters ranks — more than 2,000 unvaccinated smoke-eaters were sent home Monday, pending their receipt of the vaccine. Exacerbating the issue, an estimated 2,300 FDNY employees called in sick on Monday, seemingly in protest.

“Since the mandate was issued, our medical leave spiked up,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Nov. 1 press briefing. “We know that’s related to protests against the mandate. It’s obvious.”

Malliotakis previously claimed over the weekend that 26 fire companies were out of commission due to staff shortages, but the firehouses were in working order when visited by the Daily News.

The NYCFireWire Twitter account, which is run by active-duty FDNY members but isn’t affiliated with the department, said that 10 companies were out of service Monday morning. Asked if the department is maintaining a list of companies out of service, Long said that the FDNY’s reallocation strategy means the staffing situation is constantly “fluid” and that companies are normally not out of service for long.

“The units that are temporarily out of service change regularly,” Long wrote in an email. “The time it would take to identify the companies, then share with you would likely change before [publication].”

NYPD is at a vaccination rate of 84 percent, while the FDNY Fire personnel is at 77 percent and EMS personnel at 88 percent, the mayor’s office reported Monday. The Department of Sanitation vaccination rates has also increased to 83 percent.

Despite the mandates, 9,000 city employees have not yet been vaccinated and have been placed on leave without pay as of Nov. 1, which is less than 6 percent of the entire city workforce at 378,000.

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea noted that only 34 police officers have been placed on unpaid leave. The remaining 12,000 unvaccinated city workers have applied for medical or religious exemption, which will be worked on in the coming days.

The mayor does not expect there to be any further disruptions to city services as a result.

“There was lots of time for people to think about this. We had the phase of vaccinate or test, there was lots of time, and lots of incentives,” de Blasio said Monday. “But it’s been quite clear this was the direction we’re going in, and it’s the right thing to do.”

“Back in December of last year, we fought hard to get to the front of the line, as we should be, and offer the vaccine. We opened our sites to vaccinate people,” added Nigro. “So for 10 months, every member of this department has had every opportunity to be vaccinated, as they should have been.”

Both de Blasio and Nigro reiterated that any FDNY member that has been placed on unpaid leave due to being unvaccinated can come back to work once they get the jab.

At their own Monday press conference, FDNY-Fire Officers Association President Jim McCarthy and UFA President Andrew Ansbro predicted that dozens of fire companies would shut because of staff shortages and urged the city to give his members more time to comply, NY1 TV reported.

“Right now their livelihood is on the line and their paycheck is on the line,” Ansbro said of his members.

In the meantime, Long said, the department will work hard to keep ladders and companies open and operating across the five boroughs.

“We continue to evaluate, we continue to as necessary backfill units with members on overtime, or move resources like apparatuses and fire trucks to make sure we are adequately covering the city,” Long said.

With reporting by Reuters