Rescue Reignites Feud Over Firehouse Staffing

NY Daily News - December 18, 2008

by JONATHAN LEMIRE

A drunken woman was rescued from the frigid waters off City Island by firefighters before sunrise Wednesday, reigniting the debate whether their firehouse should have its staffing cut in half overnight.

When the 40-year-old woman toppled off a dock and landed in the water at 4:15 a.m., a neighbor ran to her aid and called 911, FDNY officials said.

Within minutes, Lt. Chris Kelly and Firefighter Walter Henning of Ladder 53 cut through a fence, ran to the dock and pulled the woman to safety, officials said. She was treated for hypothermia and was expected to make a full recovery.

The firemen's company is one of four FDNY units that will be closed between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. daily as a cost-cutting measure. Critics of the plan pointed to yesterday's rescue as evidence that the ladder company - the only one on City Island - should stay open 24 hours a day.

"We now have more proof that this was a totally irresponsible decision," said City Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx), whose sentiments were echoed by the firefighters union.

"The nearest ladder company at night is now in Co-op City and has to cross two bridges to reach a fire on City Island," said Vacca. "That puts people at risk. This decision must be reconsidered."

FDNY officials declined to comment on Vacca's demand, pointing out that Engine 70 - which shares Ladder 53's firehouse - will remain staffed overnight.