New York Post
FIRE WAR IS RAGING OVER O.T.
By DAVID SEIFMAN City Hall Bureau Chief
May 13, 2009
The firefighters union won't agree to a deal that would spare 16 fire companies from the budget ax because it's concerned about losing out on overtime, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta charged yesterday.
Testifying before the City Council, Scoppetta warned he'll have to cut one ladder company and three engine companies by July and another 12 fire units next year to save $18 million.
All the affected firehouses would remain open with reduced manpower.
Scoppetta said the closings could be averted if the Uniformed Firefighters Association would allow the city to operate all 198 engine companies with four firefighters each, instead of the five now required under its contract at 64 companies.
"When you staff 64 engines with five firefighters, it generates overtime because you must start the tour with those five firefighters," Scoppetta explained. "They want that overtime."
Under a longtime provision in the union contract, the FDNY has to provide minimum manning at many positions -- even if that means calling in personnel on overtime if someone is out sick.
With fewer firefighters retiring, Scoppetta said there were times this year when 100 engine companies each had five firefighters, leading to complaints from the union that there was "no overtime in the field."
Union president Steve Cassidy disputed Scoppetta's account.
"It's a safety issue," insisted Cassidy, citing a report prepared by the Fire Department itself in 1987 that raised concerns about whether four-person fire crews were adequate to do the job.
Cassidy said further that he never discussed overtime with Scoppetta, but simply questioned why he had added 500 to 600 firefighters to the force at a time when it was fully staffed and Mayor Bloomberg was complaining about soaring pension and health care costs in the department.
"Rank-and-file firefighters have worked virtually no overtime other than what is contractually required," said Cassidy.
"The fire commissioner is doing what he's very good at -- which is mixing apples and oranges."
In February, Scoppetta announced plans to cap administrative overtime following reports in The Post that 72 percent of the FDNY's uniformed force have retired on tax-free disability pensions since 2004, often by inflating their pre-retirement-year paychecks with vast sums of overtime.
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