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FDNY prepares to close 20% of fire companies — and pull a fifth of ambulances — as COVID vaccine deadline looms

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Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared last week that all city workers, including firefighters and cops, have to get their first COVID vaccine dose by 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 29.

The mayor's mandate, the deadline for which was extended following ongoing disputes with workers' unions, also ordered that city employees who fail to start their vaccine regimen by Nov. 1 will be put on unpaid leave until they can give proof of vaccination, the New York Post reported.

With the deadline looming, the New York Fire Department announced Wednesday that only about two-thirds (65%) of its firefighters, fire officers, and EMS workers have been vaccinated, the Post said. So now the FDNY is preparing to close up to 20% of all Gotham fire companies and to pull 20% of its ambulances out of service.

Now the city is scrambling to address the problem that could pose a danger for millions of New Yorkers. One firefighter predicted that "people will die in this city" as a result of the closures.

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro lamented the situation, blaming the "portion of our workforce" that "has refused to comply with a vaccine mandate for all city employees." He vowed that the FDNY would "use all means at our disposal, including mandatory overtime, mutual aid from other EMS providers and significant changes to the schedules of our members" to make up for the staffing shortages.

One firefighter told the Post that the mandate will "take about 40 percent of us out" and could force response times to increase to "seven minutes or more."

FDNY Firefighters Association President Andrew Ansbro said in an interview that his members are concerned that "response times are going to go through the roof" when these mandates are enforced.

"The same is going to go for the police officers, sanitation," he continued. "The basic services of the city are about to come to a near screeching halt based on this staffing shortage that is going to be by design of the mayor."

According to the paper, the FDNY ordered all members to work "straight hours" as scheduled beginning Saturday morning. The order means they can no longer exchange shifts with each other and will be required to work overtime.

One firefighter warned that "forcing us to work overtime" will mean that "we'll lose another 10 percent who get injured or sick from 80-hour work weeks."

The FDNY also canceled all vacations set to start on or after Monday. Also, any firefighter who wants to use his accrued comp time must file for retirement in order to keep from being suspended.

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