The Fire Department may be forced to cutback on staffing to cover the costs of the increasing number of firefighters taking sick leave.

If the annual average of firefighters taking medical leave hits its expected level of 7.5 percent this year, union contracts will allow Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta to cut the number of firefighters working at 49 of the city's busiest engine companies from five to four, the Daily News reports. If the number reaches 7.6 percent of the 8,700-person workforce, the cuts will be mandatory in order to save the needed $500,000 per month to pay the overtime shifts of firefighters filling in for those who are sick.

Union officials insisted that firefighters aren't abusing their medical leave. "All medical leave is granted by a Fire Department doctor," said Al Hagan, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. "I've spent 35 years in the field and I know that firefighters are always coming in sick — sometimes they sound like a TB ward because everyone is coughing. They only stay home when they are really, really sick."