De Blasio FDNY Commissioner Struggles to Douse Council Budget Doubts

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images).

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images).

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro today pushed back against assertions from Queens Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and her colleagues that the city’s fire and emergency medical services are understaffed.

Mr. Nigro and his deputy commissioners defended Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $1.8 billion dollar outlay for the department this year before a hearing of the council’s Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice, which Ms. Crowley chairs. The fiery councilwoman called attention to heavy spending on overtime—a projected $336 million in Mr. de Blasio’s budget —and argued that the agency was short on EMT personnel, firefighters, inspectors and even noted that the department has only one painter on the payroll to touch up all of its equipment and facilities.

“Who does your painting? Because there’s no way one person could do all your painting,” Ms. Crowley asked, a question Mr. Nigro was unable to answer.

Ms. Crowley maintained the city would save both lives and money hiring new employees rather than doling out copious overtime hours, and implied that short-staffing might be at fault for the “appalling” 11-minute average response time to potentially fatal emergency situations in the month of February.

“There’s substantial savings if you could run your tours straight time rather than overtime,” Ms. Crowley argued, noting that paying regular wages is 50 percent cheaper than time-and-a-half spent on having employees work late.

Mr. Nigro blamed the protracted response time on severe winter weather conditions last month, and argued any effort to substantially shave the overtime budget would cut into the department’s capacity to respond to crises.

“Most reductions in overtime result in a reduction in service, in one kind or another,” he said, adding that his staff was working on a modest five percent decrease but defending the policy in general. “You can have excessive overtime and you can have overtime that makes sense, budget-wise, because continuing to hire new personnel is some, you reach some limit where you’d be spending more money than you need to.”

The chairwoman went on to argue that hiring additional inspectors could raise money, suggesting that some could even be assigned to monitor the Airbnb website and check and assess for code violations at residences converted to hotels. Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera also joined in, asking if it would not be preferable for the Council to allocate funding so that each engine dispatched to a scene could have more than the four firefighters currently allotted.

Mr. Nigro demurred.

“I think everyone in this business would say five is better than four and six is better than five,” he said, noting however that currently personnel are trained to work effectively in four-man teams.

Mr. Nigro continued to defend Mr. de Blasio’s allocations for his agency to the press after the hearing was over.

“Everyone can be happier, but I am quite happy with what the mayor has seen as a need, and he provided us with exactly what we asked for,” he told the Observer. “Within the Fire Department, I could not be happier.”

De Blasio FDNY Commissioner Struggles to Douse Council Budget Doubts