Judge: Firehouse Closure Was Illegal, Ruling only Affects Engine No. 261 in Long Island City

WCBS 880 - July 03, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) The closing of a Queens firehouse was illegal because city officials failed to properly notify residents of the cost-cutting move, a Brooklyn judge ruled Wednesday.

In the same two-page ruling, Justice James G. Starkey rejected arguments that five other firehouses across the city were improperly closed. The plaintiffs, including several City Council members, had sued the city in May, alleging the decision lacked reason, violated city procedures and endangered public safety.

Overall, the plaintiffs failed to show the closings were "arbitrary and capricious," Starkey wrote.

But the judge also found that in shutting down Engine No. 261 in Long Island City, officials violated city procedures by not notifying residents of Roosevelt Island that firefighters there would be taking over the duties of the closed house.

The judge left the fate of Engine No. 261, which has already closed, unclear. He ordered the plaintiffs to make further arguments about the "relief to which they are entitled" at a hearing on July 9.

The closures of the firehouses sparked fund-raising drives and protests by firefighters and residents in the neighborhoods where they are located. Mayor Michael Bloomberg claimed the closings were needed to help close the city's massive budget gap.

City Councilman Eric Gioia, who represents Long Island City, called Starkey's ruling "a real victory for the rule of law."

"Mayor Bloomberg was told, 'You have to play by the rules like everyone else,'" Gioia said.

The city's top lawyer, Michael Cardozo, also claimed victory. He said officials were "extremely pleased" that the judge ruled in their favor in five closings and cited only a "technical deficiency" in the sixth.

A firefighter union official, Steve Cassidy, demanded an immediate reopening of the Long Island City house.

"This administration absolutely didn't give proper notice, and when confronted with this fact, they didn't seem to care," he said.