2,000 FDNY firefighters take medical leave as vaccine sanctions threaten

More than 2,000 New York City firefighters have taken medical leave in the past week as unvaccinated municipal employees face the start of sanctions Monday.

Frank Dwyer, deputy commissioner for the New York City Fire Department, said via email that the number of firefighters on medical leave was “very unusual.” The department employs about 11,000 firefighters.

Some first-aiders in the United States have been relatively resilient to employers’ Covid-19 vaccination mandates, and some say they would rather lose their jobs than lose their sense of freedom from having to be inoculated.

Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro suggested in a statement Sunday that firefighters who participated in the apparent sickout neglected their oaths, which oblige them to “faithfully perform the duties” of their jobs. Those who do not meet the vaccination requirement have been threatened with unpaid leave from Monday.

“Irresponsible false reporting from some of our members poses a danger to New Yorkers and their other firefighters,” Nigro said. “They have to return to work or risk the consequences of their actions.”

New York City Fire Department union members, city officials and others are protesting the city’s Covid-19 vaccine mandates Thursday.Mike Segar / Reuters

However, Nigro rejected news items and politicians’ claims that the staff challenge has forced the department to close a number of firehouses. The American rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-New York, said in a statement Saturday that 26 city fire stations are closed.

“The department has not closed any firehouses,” Nigro said.

The department said firefighters – groups of firefighters consisting of specialized teams – open and close regularly, but may be subject to more closures than usual. FDNY was prepared to shut down 20 percent of them while deploying private emergency medical response services to help, it said.

Malliotakis said New Yorkers were left without a safety net as the city and its firefighters stand beyond the mandate.

“God forbid that there is a major fire or a serious car accident, or if a crime takes place, or even worse,” she said when she pointed out a firehouse she said was temporarily without a ladder company due to staff shortages.

Andrew Ansbro, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, blamed city officials and suggested the vaccination requirement could have been shifted among groups of firefighters to avoid staff shortages.

“My members have not been given the right opportunity to be informed by the department or the city what is going to happen to them,” he said.

Ansbro acknowledged the increase in sick days taken by firefighters, but said many could be attributed to firefighters who were vaccinated and subsequently experienced flu-like symptoms.

On a Covid-19 vaccine information page, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not use the term “flu-like” to describe symptoms or effects. It says, “Side effects can affect your ability to perform daily activities, but they should go away within a few days.”

The New York Police Department did not immediately respond to a question about the number of officers who have taken medical leave in the past week.

The union, which represents private officers, the Police Benevolent Association, said it has filed a lawsuit challenging the vaccine mandate.

Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed some optimism about the situation on Saturday, tweeting that 91 percent of the city’s employees had so far been vaccinated. The deadline for many workers to get at least one dose was Friday.

The NYPD reported that 84 percent of its employees, civilians and sworn in, were vaccinated. Firefighters’ numbers were 80 percent, according to NBC New York.

Lindsey Pipia and Kathy Park the contribution.

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