New Orleans Firefighters Say Furloughs Causing a Public Safety Crisis

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On Tuesday, the New Orleans Firefighters Association (NOFFA) stated in a Facebook post and on their website that public safety furloughs instituted by Mayor Cantrell’s administration are causing a public safety crisis in New Orleans.

According to NOFFA, an early morning fire raged out of control Tuesday, in part due to staffing shortages caused by public safety furloughs.

“At 6:57 am this morning (12/1/20), a fire was reported in the first-up territory of Engine 27. Engine 27 is consistently among the busiest engine companies in the city in responding to fires and life-threatening emergencies,” the group posted on Facebook. “This morning, as on most others recently, Engine 27 was out of service due to staffing shortages following public safety furloughs.”

According to NOFFA, although other departments were able to respond to the fire, their response time was a full two to three minutes slower than Engine 27’s would have been – a delay that resulted in the loss of the home.

“Only by sheer luck was no one in this home this morning; otherwise, we might have seen our third fire death in as many weeks,” the group stated. “Fire stations aren’t placed at random, and that approximately two-minute difference between potential arrival times is so often the factor between life or death or the saving of a family home, the saving of a neighbor’s home, or a local distance. This is happening repeatedly. This is happening often. There have been several examples in just the last few weeks.”

Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced the temporary furloughs for 4,700 city employees – including police, fire, and public safety workers – in October as part of a budget-cutting plan put in place to address the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. City finance officials expect that New Orleans will receive $150 million less in sales tax revenues this year – roughly a quarter of the city’s operating budget.

“The reality is we are in a fiscal crisis here in the city of New Orleans,” Cantrell said during a press conference announcing the furloughs. “The pandemic has affected the city’s entire workforce.”

Cantrell has said that the impact of furloughs on public safety is minimal, stating that, “The data doesn’t show at all that services and the quality of services has been downgraded.” However, both NOFFA and the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO) disagree.

“What we’re realizing is that, cut to the bone and beyond, we’re starting to have minimal impact on stopping the progress of a house fire and the loss of life,” NOFFA stated.

According to the NOFFA website Ladder 7 on South Carrollton (serving Gert Town, Broadmoor, University area, Leonidas, Treme, Carrollton area, and Hollygrove) has been out of service for 20 days in a row. Rescue 7, serving the same area has been out of service for 14 days in a row. With temperatures across the city plunging and an increased fire risk due to the use of electric and gas heaters, NOFFA is concerned this will lead to an increased risk of fire-related death due to slowed response times.

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