A total of 26 New York firehouses were shuttered because of the manpower shortage, including six in Manhattan, nine in Brooklyn, three in Queens and four each in the Bronx and Staten Island
Only about 72 percent of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) workers have been vaccinated against the virus, which means that up to 4,000 workers may be terminated by the department.
To compensate for the number, the department sent an email to nearly 350 potential volunteer firefighters "in anticipation of the impending shortage for the FDNY due to COVID-19 vaccine mandates." The email called for voluntary-only basis operations with qualified members on standby to backfill the firehouses when necessary.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro warned that the effects of the closures could be catastrophic and could endanger the lives of the residents. A day after laying off thousands of firefighters, a seven-year-old boy was killed, and his 54-year-old grandmother seriously hurt as a deadly blaze engulfed their Washington Heights home.
Officials said that the fire started at the back of the house's basement and spread to the first floor. Three other people inside the house, including one firefighter and the boy's father, also suffered from minor injuries and were taken to a nearby hospital.
Although an FDNY spokesman said that the firefighters' response time was not impacted, some reportedly called in sick to avoid unpaid leave as all municipal workers have been ordered to show proof of at least one dose of the vaccine by 5 p.m. on October 29 or risk being placed on unpaid leave by November 1.
Despite closing 26 stations, the FDNY said it is not closing any firehouse for good.
In protest of the mandate by de Blasio, hundreds of New York City firefighters took sick leaves on Oct. 29 instead of complying with the vaccination deadline. The sick leaves are because of their anger at the vaccine mandate, according to Nigro, who oversees a department where more than a quarter of its workers have not gotten a single shot of the COVID vaccine.
Nigro said that the loophole they took to avoid the deadline is "contrary to their oaths to serve."
Union leaders have denied taking sickouts. "We don't condone any job action, nor do we inform anybody to do a job action," said Jim McCarthy of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. (Related: Southwest Airlines "sickout" protest spreads to Amtrak, which is canceling trains due to employees refusing covid "vaccination.")
"Is there a sickout? Not to my knowledge, no," said Andrew Ansbro of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. "I have had members that have received the vaccination say they are having flu-like symptoms and they've had to go sick. The department is allowing people to have a couple days off after they get the vaccination."
Six firefighters of Ladder 113 in Brooklyn were on duty when they drove a fire truck to State Senator Zellnor Myrie's office to tell his staffers that they would have blood on their hands if they continue to push through with the mandate.
Nigro deemed the action inappropriate, saying: "They should only be concerned with responding to emergencies and helping New Yorkers and not harassing an elected official and his staff."
Despite the incident, there was a surge in vaccination rates among the public employees in Manhattan in a last-minute attempt to stay on the payroll. The FDNY saw firefighters' vaccination rate rise from 67 percent on the morning of Oct. 29 to 72 percent by the end of the day.
The Emergency Medical Services (EMS), which is part of the FDNY, also saw a spike from 77 percent to 84 percent, while vaccination rates among the NY Police Department rose from 80 to 84 percent. The Department of Sanitation also saw a jump in vaccination rate from 67 percent to 76 percent.
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