18 fire companies close, trash piles up amid New York City's COVID vaccine mandate

Coronavirus update for NYC

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Tuesday, November 2, 2021
18 fire companies close, trash piles up amid NYC's vaccine mandate
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As fire department leaders hustle to find a way to address the shortages, fire union officials are pressing Mayor Bill de Blasio for time to comply.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The ongoing battle over New York City's expanded vaccine mandate continues Tuesday, one day after enforcement began for all municipal workers -- including the NYPD, FDNY and Department of Sanitation.

Officials say 92% of city employees are vaccinated, with several departments improving their numbers Monday.

The fire department is now reporting 81% of its employees being vaccinated, with 77% of firefighters -- up 2% from Monday.

The NYPD has 85% of its force vaccinated, but thousands are still off the job due to their vaccination status.

RELATED | Mandate enforcement begins for NYPD, FDNY, NYC municipal workers

Engine 294 in Richmond Hill was one of 18 fire companies out of service Monday.

As fire department leaders hustle to find a way to address the shortages, fire union officials are pressing Mayor Bill de Blasio for time to comply with the vaccine mandate.

Beyond Queens, staffing shortages are being felt across New York.

"They knew this was coming," Uniformed Firefighters Association President Andrew Ansbro said. "I pray it doesn't cost the life of a citizen or a firefighter."

With so many firefighters remaining unvaccinated or out sick, Ansbro says that engine and ladder companies are riding short -- and that's a danger to the city. The union pushing for more time for its members to get vaccinated.

De Blasio however, is sticking with the mandate, saying 2,000 more city employees got vaccinated in the past 24 hours. But many are still seeking accommodations.

"I think the big story is clear, 92% of the workforce is now vaccinated," he said. "Folks, when they get to that moment of decision, overwhelmingly are choosing to get vaccinated. So going through those accommodation requests, you know people put in the request, it has to be reviewed, there's an opportunity given then for any additional information to offer, there's an appeal process, it'll play out over days, even several weeks. But what we do know is that for those who get that accommodation, OK. For those who don't, it's a decision point."

As far as sick leave, 2,300 firefighters are out, more than half of them happen to be unvaccinated. Union leaders say not to misinterpret those numbers.

"We take great exception to the assertions that New York City firefighters, allegedly in the thousands, are faking medical leave because of the mandate," International Association of Firefighters President Edward Kelly said.

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro called the alleged sickout unacceptable.

"Understaffing could end immediately if members stopped going sick when they weren't sick," he said. "We hope that ends very soon and we can go back to staffing our units as they should be."

De Blasio was also critical of anyone who may be calling in sick due to the mandate.

"The folks who are out sick and really aren't sick, the folks who are faking it, are doing an immense disservice to the people of this city and to their fellow members of service," he said. "And we will make sure there's consequences for that. This is something we are watching very carefully to see if it is coordinated. If the union coordinates in any way, that is a job action violation of the Taylor law. We are watching constantly to see if anything constitutes that and if so we go to court immediately."

Union leaders are also demanding a testing option for all members of the department.

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Roughly 6% of the total workforce, about 9,000 municipal workers, are now on unpaid leave, Press Secretary Daniele Filson said, having failed to be vaccinated by the deadline.

Over on Staten Island, bar owner Danny Presti, who defied COVID restrictions during the shutdown, was the first of several to be arrested Monday night as he block a sanitation truck from moving.

"The last two weeks, I was never more proud to see the garbage sitting in front of my house," he said. "And I would've let it sit there forever if that's what it takes."

Anti-vaccine protesters clashed with police in support of the 17% of sanitation workers who have chosen to not get vaccinated.

Garbage is piling up in spots around New York City, and the head of the department admits that there has been an impact on operations.

While the number of vaccinated firefighters and other municipal workers has increased, thousands remain defiant.

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