Fire Department Plays Russian Roulette With The Lives Of Staten Islanders

NY Times - December 19, 2008

by STEVE CASSIDY - President of the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York

The New York City Fire Department's announcement that it would be closing Engine 161 on McClean Avenue in South Beach -- each and every night -- as a means of saving tax dollars is playing Russian Roulette with the lives of Staten Islanders and firefighters.

According to the FDNY's statistics, in the last four years New York City firefighters have responded to more emergency calls than at any time in the department's history. With firefighters busier than ever responding to a growing number of emergency calls, now is certainly not the time to simply abandon nighttime protection for the people in these communities. Furthermore, nighttime is when two thirds of all civilian fatalities take place.

The Uniformed Firefighters Association recently sent a letter to Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta requesting a meeting to discuss alternative cost savings within the department that will not take firefighters out of the communities they serve. The sacrifices and cuts the FDNY makes in these trying economic times should not simply start and end with cutting firefighters who protect our local neighborhoods. Instead, let's start with the legions of highly paid bureaucrats at headquarters.

For Island businesses and residents, this means increased response times for fires, medical and all emergencies. These critical minutes and seconds can make all the difference in the world.

While it is clear that the city is facing difficult financial times, there must be other options that will not imperil the lives and property of New Yorkers. Closing community fire companies compromises public safety, threatening civilian and firefighter lives. In this post 9/11 world, the FDNY's expanded responsibilities to protect New Yorkers and the resulting surge in emergency calls can not be accomplished by fire service reductions.

We need elected officials and citizens to stand up and fight to keep our local firehouses open to protect our communities. Unless we all stand up together, we will never be counted.

STEVE CASSIDY MANHATTAN [The writer is president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York]