Devastating Jackson Heights Fire Could Have Turned Fatal Under Bloomberg's Proposed Budget Cuts

NY Daily News - February 17, 2010

by Nicholas Hirshon

The blaze that destroyed several Jackson Heights businesses last Saturday could have turned fatal under the mayor's proposed cuts to fire companies, local leaders warned.

At a news conference Monday, the area's representatives in the City Council and state Assembly urged Mayor Bloomberg to keep all firehouses open, citing the destruction at 37th Ave. and 84th St.

Several businesses on the strip were charred and had to be demolished, but no one died.

Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) credited the lack of fatalities to a swift Fire Department response - which may have been impossible if predicted slashes went through.

"If any firehouse was not able to respond the way it did, we would have the tremendous potential for loss of life," he said.

Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) outlined his remarks as addressing "what went right and what could have gone wrong" if firehouses were cut.

"We cannot afford anyone's life to be lost based on the fact we want to balance the budget," Peralta said. "Imagine if we wouldn't have had a firehouse nearby."

Fire Department brass has not yet decided how many or which fire companies would be slashed, though early proposals call for 20.

Leroy McGinnis of the Uniformed Firefighters Association predicted Brooklyn and Queens would face the majority of cuts.

"Any closing of a single fire company has a ripple effect in your neighborhood," McGinnis said, adding that Queens is "on the chopping block."

Negotiations over the city budget are heating up in advance of a June 1 deadline for fiscal year 2011. Mayoral spokesman Stu Loeser admitted the city will face difficult decisions.

"Nobody relishes the kind of tough choices that need to be made to keep the city solvent," he said. "But we're confident all city agencies can continue to deliver excellent services for less money."

Meanwhile, Dromm said he was helping the affected storeowners, most of whom had insurance, apply for additional aid from the city Small Business Services Department.

Among them is Maria Lalita Solano, who lost her family's gift and party supplies store just months before its third anniversary. Her son, Isaac Emperador, 20, said the family hoped to rebuild.

"It's tough ... after all the hard work we put into this store - we worked every day, seven days a week. It's just devastating," he said.