New Orleans — Fire officials Friday announced a new deployment strategy they say will keep residents safe as the number of firefighters shrinks this year.
The plan will prevent any firehouse from closing while ensuring that each company — the number of people assigned to each truck — includes the national standard of four memberes.
The department has operated three-men companies in recent years as its ranks began to contract and fewer academy classes were funded.
What the changes mean is that two ladder trucks from firehouses on Old Gentilly Road and Arabella Street will be lost once the strategy is enacted.
That will happen after the department reaches 694 firefighters later this year. Right now there are 708 firefighters, according to Assistant Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell.
Additionally, more firefighters will be trained to respond to hazmat situations; and light-rescue and extrication components, such as the Jaws of Life, will be added to two trucks.
“The overall number of people who report to work each day will be the same,” McConnell said. “We’ll continue to keep people safe.”
The changes, however, aren’t sitting well with some firefighters. Union president Nick Felton described the plan as a “shell game.”
While Felton has previously advocated for four-man companies, he also said there need to be more boots on the ground. Fewer firefighters on fewer trucks could lead to larger fires and more injuries, he warned.
“We’ve got a recipe for disaster,” Felton said, adding that the stable of 694 firefighters the city has funded for 2013 will only get smaller as attrition kicks in and no new recruits are in line to take their places.
“It will put property and lives in further danger,” he said of the new deployment plan and size of the department.
Felton echoed many of the same thoughts during the city’s budget hearings in November when he blasted the Landrieu administration for giving the NOFD an $84.9 million operating budget that prevented layoffs and hiring recruits.
Pressed by Council Vice President Jackie Clarkson when asked how many extra people he could use, Fire Superintendent Charles Parent said another 71 people would let him do a “terrific job.”
On Friday, Felton said he hoped that the changes wouldn’t result in any harm to firefighters or civilians.
“I hope and pray no one gets killed by dumb decisions that are made at the upper staff of the city of New Orleans,” Felton said.