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FDNY Strongly Contesting UFA Prez's Claims On Flatbush Blaze

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The fire union is blaming staff cuts for a delayed response to a tragic Flatbush fire that left one dead, 100 people homeless and dozens of firefighters injured.

But the FDNY said a dispatch problem also helped delay getting water on the blaze for critical minutes, reports CBS 2's Marcia Kramer.

The union said Monday the fire that destroyed a Flatbush apartment building on Sunday could have been contained to one or two apartments if not for staff cuts ordered three weeks ago by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Those cuts, said Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steve Cassidy, left each of the first three responding engine companies down one man. Cassidy claimed it delayed getting water on the fire for more than five minutes.

RELATED: Union: Brooklyn Death, Injuries 'Directly Attributable' To Bloomberg FDNY Staffing Cuts

"Five minutes is an eternity. A fire doubles exponentially every two minutes," Cassidy said.

Response times tell part of the story. The first engine, 255, got there in 2 minutes, 13 seconds. The second engine, 249, arrived in 6 minutes, 53 seconds. The engine, 217, showed up in 8 minutes, 45 seconds

Each of those three engines had five men before the staff cuts, but when they raced to the fire they had only four. Cassidy said the first engine had to wait for the second engine to have enough manpower to run the fire hose 450 feet to the fire.

"Now there are 100 families that are homeless, 60 firefighters were injured, 16 were burned and a civilian is dead of Mike Bloomberg's cuts to the FDNY," Cassidy said.

The Fire Department is strongly contesting Cassidy's claims. Officials said it was a combination of factors, including high winds, apartment doors left open that spread the flames and a possible dispatching error in which Engine 248, which was supposed to arrive second, was offline at a cop shooting.

"There are many contributing factors to the fire's intensity and growth," said FDNY spokesman James Long, "but the fifth firefighter is not one of the factors in this fire."

While the debate rages there is one thing that isn't in dispute -- members of two ladder companies who rushed in searching for victims had to transmit "mayday calls" and be evacuated because there was no water on the fire.

Things could get a whole lot worse for the Fire Department. Bloomberg wants to close 20 more fire companies, which FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano told Kramer will impact fire operations "severely." He said response times will increase.

The closings go into effect July 1.

Think the fire union has a legitimate beef? Do you side with the city? Tell us in the comments section below.

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