Legislators Call For Action Fire House Rally Cry A Matter Of Life & Death

Queens Tribune - April 13, 2003

by Azi Paybarah and Reed Albergotti

The mayor’s office has set in motion a 45-day timeline that will commence with the closing eight fire houses in New York City — two in Queens – and borough legislators have responded with rally plans and charges that the move threatens public safety.

City Hall issued notices to Engine Company 293 in Woodhaven and 261 in Long Island City, preparing staff members for their eventual transfer on May 23.

The budget-shrinking measure will save the City $10 million, according to the mayor’s office, but Queens residents and some of their elected officials are planning to rally this Sunday to send a message of outrage to Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Councilman Joe Addabbo, Jr. whose district encompasses Engine 261, said “To say it’s justified is unconscionable. In Queens, we have the highest response time of any borough. To do this at a time when we should be honoring these firefighters is totally wrong.”

Councilman Eric Gioia said, “This is not quality of life we’re talking about . . . this is life.” Gioia noted that Engine 261 is crucial to the Ravenswood and Queensbridge areas, which host two of the City’s largest public-housing developments.

Engine 261 also serves Roosevelt Island, he said, an area included in Council Speaker Gifford Miller’s district. 

Community Board 9 District Manager Mary Ann Carey commented, “The reason we were taking this big real estate tax hike was because we were going to save our services, and yet they are closing engine companies.” 

Addabbo criticized the Mayor’s commission, the body given the task of determining which engine companies to close. Addabbo said the commission took into account the typical amount of runs in the area, the impact on the community, and response time. Average response times in Queens could increase by over one minute. Most experts in firefighting say even an increase in a few seconds can mean the difference between life and death in some cases.

“The commission only met twice for two hours each time. They chose which engines to close and didn’t even visit any of the neighborhoods,” said Addabbo. 

Councilman Peter Vallone added, “The purpose of the Panel was to study the fire department, and study its finances and come up with alternatives to the cuts. They failed in their mission.” 

Addabbo said until the 45 days are up, there is still time to reverse the mayor’s decision. He urged members of Community Board 9 to keep fighting.

“Will there be another rally? Damn yes there will be another rally and it better be a good one. I do not plan to make these 45 days easy ones,” he said.

Borough President Helen Marshall’s Spokesperson Dan Andrews said her office is still looking for alternatives to the firehouse closings, and will be meeting with a number of parties involved in the decision. “They are our first line of defense in the event of another terror attack and it’s hard to imagine that while New York City still on its highest alert status that they would close any firehouse,” Andrews said.

A spokesperson for Mayor  Bloomberg said “Public safety is the mayor’s preeminent concern. Unfortunately, the City is facing a severe fiscal crisis. And every agency, every neighborhood, every community in the City has to be part of the solution. Nobody wants to close firehouses ... Unfortunately, we don’t have a choice.”