Engine 261 Still Closed Despitse New Info

Queens Tribune - September 12, 2003

by Azi Paybarah

Calls to reopen Long Island City’s Engine 261 are heating up as the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) released new information that critics say show response times in the area now 20 percent greater than what the department anticipated.

The claim came from the President of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, Stephen Cassidy, who said at a rally in Queens on Sept. 2, “The City Council was lied to . . .[and given] erroneous information.”  FDNY officials testified on May 5 that any change in response times would be negligible, Cassidy said. 

When asked at the rally if they were lied to, neither Council member Peter Vallone Jr., nor Council Member Eric Gioia used the term “lied.” Instead, they maintained that Engine 261 should be reassembled in light of the new response time calculations. 

Instead of taking 4:08, the FDNY response times in the Long Island City area once served by Engine 261 can take 5:13, according to Cassidy and the Uniformed Fire Officer’s Association (UFOA). Cassidy said, “That spells death if you have a heart-attack across the street from the fire house.” 

FDNY Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta charged the fire unions are the one misleading the public. In an Aug. 29 letter to UFOA President Peter Gorman, Scoppetta wrote: “Your letter contains several errors and misleading statements . . . . You compare pre-closing times from the computer siting model to the post-closing times from real responses during June and July 2003. This mixes apples and oranges – the two sets of data represent very different underlying facts . . . Mixing the two is misleading because it falsely exaggerates response time increases.”

Vallone downplayed the chances that the new information would have prevented the firehouse closings during the budget negotiations. He said the Mayor — and not the City Council — has discretion over how money is spent once it’s been allocated to a City department or agency. The Council could fund the FDNY, Vallone said, but not earmark money to keep Engine 261 open. 

Gioia agreed that the closing seemed inevitable during the budget negotiations. “We wrote to him, we spoke to him, we sued him,” Gioia said, referring to Bloomberg as “a man on a mission” to close firehouses. 

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney added, “A fire was set by City Hall and it’s burning out of control . . . .the numbers are in, and they tell a frightening story.”

Engine 261 and five others citywide were eliminated earlier this year in an effort to save the FDNY millions of dollars. The disbanded firemen were reassigned to other firehouses. 

A lawsuit to reopen Engine 261 is still pending. Other officials who attended the rally included: Assembly members Cathy Nolan and Marge Markey; and Dutch Kills Civic Association President Jerry Walsh.