New Orleans firefighters claim current staffing shortages threaten their ability to put out fires in the city on a timely basis.

"When it comes down to the actual manpower on the streets, we're at critical mass now," Firefighters Union President Aaron Mischler said.

According to the Mischler, his members will no longer work excessive overtime to cover for a city administration and department that can't attract or retain employees.

"They're trying to bring people in," Mischler said. "Last year, the mayor budgeted for 50 new hires. We hired 8. This year, they budgeted for another 50. We're at 39 going on through the process, right now, but it's not keeping up with attrition."

The union claims the NOFD's call volume has increased 150% over the last decade while the number of firefighters has dropped by 25%.

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The department's 480 or so rank-and-file personnel constitutes the lowest staffing level in the agency's 128-year history.

According to the union, the city cannot provide proper fire protection without asking firefighters to work overtime voluntarily, and that many firefighters have been working more than 98 hours a week.

Union officials said the overtime boycott could result in some firehouses closing at certain times.

"We cannot run an engine house or fire truck with less than three firefighters on that unit," Mischler said. "We want to be properly staffed and we want the city to address the issues."

New Orleans Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell said the NOFD will hire two recruit classes planned this year, and he questioned the timing of the union's job actions as the city handles the Hard Rock collapse and Mardi Gras.

"I want to say and make sure people understand they are safe," McConnell said. "It will be a challenge if they continue to do this and ask the firefighters not to work the overtime, but we're working hard to get people hired and we will ensure people are safe."

But the Firefighters Union President disagreed, calling the amounts of overtime worked by firefighters extreme and dangerous.

"We call for the boycott to show that the city's been running on dangerous amounts of overtime," Mischler said. "It's been an extreme amount of overtime that our firefighters have been working."

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