NEW ORLEANS -- The dip in the number of New Orleans firefighters is a major concern for many neighbors who attended a public budget meeting at Hynes Elementary in Lakeview, and there’s no new recruit class in sight.
The district recently saw controversial cuts to the Arabella fire station Uptown, and the concern that was raised repeatedly was whether the city has enough firefighters to keep everyone safe.
The city says it does, but the firefighter’s union has a much different story.
“We’re truthfully about 150 firefighters short than we should be,” said New Orleans Firefighters Association President Nick Felton. “We’re responding with less than adequate personnel on fire and emergency medical rolls. We are reducing fire and medical protection in the city. We’re playing with a ticking bomb.”
Felton said an apparent staffing shortage means fire trucks aren’t always staffed with four firefighters, violating national safety standards and putting both firefighters and the community at risk.
New Orleans Fire Department Chief Tim McConnell said his department should have 694 members. Right now, it has 674, and more retire each month.
McConnell said that can be an issue if a lot of firefighters are on sick leave, but insists the city is safe.
“I believe that we’re safe. I believe we’re riding with the right number of firefighters,” he said. “I know we’re deploying them properly across the city.”
Mayor Mitch Landrieu says the city would have the money to hire more firefighters if their costly pension program was reformed.
“It is the worst or close to the worst pension fund in the country,” Landrieu said. “If it is not fixed it threatens to crowd everything out.”
The fire department is preparing to apply for a federal grant to hire more firefighters, but they won’t be able to hit the streets until months later.