MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Memphis Fire Director Alvin Benson said 40 firefighters called in sick Wednesday, in addition to 25 who were already out.
He said he's never seen that many firefighters out in a long time. It's about five percent of the department.
The average is about 11 sick calls per day.
Benson said he was hesitant to say there is a pattern to the sick calls or that this is a work action similar to the Blue Flu for the Memphis Police Department.
"(Red Rash) is something I haven't used," he said. "I will say there was a spike in people calling out today."
He added he's concerned about it, and is keeping a close eye on the situation.
Benson said he doesn't believe the public is in danger at this time, but did say response time can be affected.
"If we don't have adequate staffing, we risk compromising response time and getting help to those who need it," he said.
Benson said he does not support a work action, but does understand the concern of city employees.
"I understand how firefighters feel. I wish there had been, or could have been, a different decision," he said. "There's a lot of frustration, there's a lot of anger, there's a lot of confusion."
He went on to say he applauds those who come to work everyday and continue to do so.
As for those calling out sick as part of the so-called Red Rash, Benson said, "Come to work and let's work this through in a civil way, in a way that doesn't compromise public safety or the safety of other firefighters."
Benson said if sick calls increase, resources will be spread out and overtime used. Neighboring fire departments will also likely be asked to help.
He said he will continue to order brown outs, taking ladder trucks off the streets if there's not enough manpower. Wendesday, there were 16 ladder trucks instead of 20.
If a firefighter is out more than two days, they are required to have a note from a doctor and are subject to home visits.
He also said Mayor A C Wharton is requiring them to call in two hours before their shift.
WREG put in a call to Shelby County Fire Department. They said MFD has not called them, but they will help out if needed.