More than 2,000 New York City firefighters have taken medical leave in the past week as unvaccinated municipal workers face the start of sanctions Monday.
Frank Dwyer was the deputy commissioner for the New York City Fire Department. He said via email that the unusual number of firefighters who were on medical leave was not common. The department employs roughly 11,000 firefighters.
Some first responders in the U.S. have been relatively resistant to employers’ Covid-19 vaccination mandates, with some saying they would rather lose their jobs than lose their sense of freedom over having to be inoculated.
Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro suggested in a statement Sunday that firefighters who participated in the apparent sickout were neglecting their oaths, which commit them to “faithfully discharge the duties” of their jobs. Unpaid leave has been issued to those who fail to meet the vaccine requirement.
“Irresponsible bogus sick leave by some of our members is creating a danger for New Yorkers and their fellow Firefighters,” Nigro said. They must return to work, or they will face the consequences of their actions. “
Nigro, however, refuted news reports and politicians’ claims that the staffing challenge has forced the department to close a number of firehouses. U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-New York, said in a statement Saturday that 26 city fire stations have closed.
” The department has not closed any firehouses,” Nigro stated.
The department said fire companies — groups of firefighters composed of specialized teams — open and close regularly but might face more closures than usual. The FDNY was prepared to shut down 20 percent of them while deploying private emergency medical response services to help out, it said.
Malliotakis said New Yorkers were being left without a safety net as the city and its firefighters stand off over the mandate.
“God forbid a major fire or severe car accident or if there is a crime taking place or worse,” she stated as she pointed to a firehouse that was without a ladder company temporarily due to staffing shortages.
Andrew Ansbro is the president of Uniformed Firefighters Association and suggested that the vaccination requirement could be spread among firefighters in order to avoid staff shortages.
” My members have not had the opportunity to hear from the city or the department what’s happening to them,” he stated. Ansbro acknowledged that firefighters have been sicker than usual, but suggested that many of these could be due to them getting vaccinated.
In an information page on Covid-19 vaccines, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not use the term “flu-like” to describe symptoms or effects. The information page states that side effects may affect your ability of daily activities but should disappear within a few days. “
The New York Police Department didn’t immediately respond to questions about how many officers have taken medical leave during the past week.
The union that represents rank-and-file 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 Saturday, tweeting that 91 percent of city 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, civilian and sworn, were vaccinated. The fire department’s figure was 80 percent, according to NBC New York.
Dennis Romero writes for NBC News and is based in Los Angeles.