Flatbush Fire Fallout: Saving Dollars Vs. Saving Lives

Unions Furious Over Budget Cuts They Say Led To Problems

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There was an ugly war of words Tuesday between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the fire unions over the impact budget cuts had on fighting a deadly fire in Brooklyn.

CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer has obtained dispatch tapes that reveal the difficulty firefighters had battling the inferno.

Bloomberg weighed in for the first time about Saturday’s deadly Flatbush apartment that raged out of control, the fire unions have said, because of his budget cuts.

“It has nothing to do with the number of people on an engine, which is what they’re talking about,” Bloomberg said, adding when told that firefighters had to run eight lengths of hose to the fifth floor, “Miss, I’m sure they’re going to say that. That’s part of what they have to say when were in the middle of trying to find ways to do more with less.”

RELATED: FDNY Strongly Contesting UFA Prez’s Claims On Flatbush Blaze | Union: Brooklyn Death, Injuries ‘Directly Attributable’ To Bloomberg FDNY Staffing Cuts | Investigation Continues In Deadly Flatbush Building Fire | At Least 18 Firefighters Hurt Battling Five-Alarm Brooklyn Blaze

Dispatch tapes and records obtained by Kramer show that there was a problem getting water on the fire and that after battling the fire for an hour and 23 minutes firefighters knew that there was little hope of saving the building.

“All members have been removed from the roof of the building. All interior members have been moved to the floor below the fire … The fire is still doubtful,” an official is heard saying on the tape.

Union officials said that’s FDNY lingo for “We’ve given up. The building can’t be saved.” They said that staff cuts ordered by Mayor Bloomberg three weeks ago delayed them from getting water on the fire for at least five critical minutes.

“They could have contained this fire, kept it to a one-alarm fire. Instead, the windows failed. The fire blew them down the stairs and the woman died on the top floor,” said James Slevin, the vice president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

The fire grew to five alarms, left one person dead, 60 firefighters injured and 100 residents homeless. Union officials said it took them longer to run 450 feet of hose to the fire because Bloomberg removed a fifth man from the engine companies.

Was the fifth man critical?

“We know that if they would have got up there quicker they could have made an attack on the fire,” Uniformed Fire Officers Association Vice President and FDNY Battalion Chief George Belnavis said.

The unions are furious with the mayor.

“All I have to say is what is more important, okay, saving lives or saving money?” UFOA delegate Lt. James McGowan said.

While this fire may be out, the fight between the mayor and the fire unions looks like it will be blazing for weeks and months to come.

City Council Fire Committee Chairwoman Elizabeth Crowley said the mayor’s budget cuts are “forcing the FDNY to roll the dice on public safety.”

Who is in the right here? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below.

More from Marcia Kramer
  • Luis

    On an Engine you have a chaufer (he stays with the rig and operates the controls) the Fire Officer (who does not carry hose) and 3 men to run hose 5 flights (with turn-out gear/SCBA/and equipment). Mr. Mayor, a 5th man makes a big difference. When you have to get water on a Fire quickly any delay is critical. Of course you are going to stick with your scripted “It has nothing to do with the number of people on an engine” and “that’s part of what they have to say when were in the middle of trying to find ways to do more with less”. You have a problem balancing a budget but which has priority the budget or lives.
    The real impact will be felt (God forbid) when the next terrorist strike occurs. There are some thing that should be exempt (Police, Fire and Education).

  • johnny

    Maybe they should have 10 guys on the truck because more is always better.

  • J

    That extra fire fighter is critical. Just think, one less man and the others will get tired quicker. The other man can help reduce that physical work load. Common sense Mr. Mayor.

  • jennifer

    Peoples lives are far more important than money. But I do understand that there needs to be cut offs..not in the police, fire, or education sectors. So where then?

  • Brian McCaffrey

    The mayor is wrong. There are many credible agencies such as NIST that have done studies which compare the effectiveness of fire crew sizes. Unfortunately, due to many towns reducing staffing on the fire trucks, increased injuries and deaths to residents and fire fighters will result. Additionally, fires will be larger. Damage will increase. More displaced families who will need aid. More buildings uninhabitable with lost tax revenues. Is it worth the price of less staffing. Check the independent studies yourself.

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