Firehouse Cuts Explained

Downtown Express - December 19, 2008

by Julie Shapiro

Angry Community Board 1 members got a sympathetic ear, not an adversary, when they spoke against the Fire Department's impending cuts Tuesday night.

Michael Weinlein, F.D.N.Y. Manhattan borough commander, agreed with the board that the service reductions were not ideal.

"No one in the Fire Department or anywhere is happy with any of these cuts," Weinlein said.

The F.D.N.Y. will save $8.9 million by closing the Governors Island firehouse and reducing nighttime hours at four other stations in the city, including Engine 4 on South St. Ladder 15 will continue to operate at the South St. station 24 hours a day.

To determine the cuts, effective Jan. 17, the F.D.N.Y. looked at statistics on fires and fatalities from the last seven years, with the goal of minimizing the impact on neighborhoods, Weinlein said.

Julie Menin, chairperson of C.B. 1, was angry to hear that Downtown is the only part of Manhattan to lose firefighters.

"That is not acceptable to us," she said. "We're going to have to organize to fight it."

Weinlein advised the board members to speak to elected officials who can speak to the mayor, the only person who can overturn the cuts.

"No one in the Fire Department is advocating [for this]," he said.

The station on Governors Island currently has two firefighters and an officer assigned 24 hours a day. The island is only open to the public over the summer, but people are there year-round doing construction and the island has many historic buildings without modern fireproofing. Next spring, an artists residency program will move to the island, and the New York Harbor School will open on the island in 2010. The F.D.N.Y. said firefighters would respond to Governors Island emergencies from Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn by fireboat or ferry.

Weinlein said Tuesday that the F.D.N.Y. might assign units to the island when it is occupied, but he did not give more detail. Steve Ritea, F.D.N.Y. spokesperson, would say only, "Any time the situation warrants, we will send firefighters."

The Uniformed Firefighters' Association slammed the cuts.

"If it's an island with no one on it, that's one thing," said Tom Butler, U.F.A. spokesperson. "But it it's an island with people on it, you need someone to respond and provide protection."

The U.F.A. also criticized the reduction of hours at Engine 4, which would be closed from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m.

"Downtown is bustling both day and night," Butler said. "You need coverage 24/7 Downtown."

While Ladder 15 will stay open all night at the South St. firehouse, Butler said it's important to have the expertise of both a ladder company and an engine company.

Engine companies carry water and attack the fire, while ladder companies do search, rescue and recovery, Butler said.

"Their jobs are absolutely distinct," he said.

Ritea, the F.D.N.Y. spokesperson, said engine and ladder companies receive the same training.