NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Fire trucks traditionally bring up the rear of Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans - but not this year.
As the city's Carnival season kicks into high gear, city officials said fire trucks won't be rolling behind parades.
The first of the major parades, with marching bands and floats carrying masked riders, were preparing to roll Friday evening. Parades are scheduled almost daily through Mardi Gras - or Fat Tuesday - which falls on Feb. 25 this year.
Fire trucks traditionally roll behind each parade in the city, signalling a procession's end. But Mayor LaToya Cantrell and fire chief Tim McConnell confirmed at a morning news conference on Mardi Gras safety issues that the practice is being abandoned. Fire crews will still do safety inspections on floats before parades, but will then return to their stations.
McConnell said the change will mean more trucks are available when needed anywhere in the city. He and Cantrell said the move was not prompted by an ongoing labor dispute involving firefighters.
With multiple parades rolling on weekends and some weeknights, "you may have four or five trucks out of service at the same time," McConnell said. "That doesn't make the public safer."
New Orleans news outlets have been reporting that firefighters have been refusing voluntary overtime shifts as the city deals with staff shortages.
The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported that, amid various labor issues, overtime has been a sticking point. Union officials say members have had to work 90 or more hours a week to make up for under-staffing.
Fire chief Tim McConnell and Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Friday the tradition is to make sure more trucks are available when needed anywhere in the city. They said it has nothing to do with an ongoing labor dispute over staffing and overtime issues.