Neighborhood Protests Cut In Fire Company's Tours

Chief Leader - December 23, 2008

by ARI PAUL

The lower-Manhattan Community Board served by one of the fire companies slated to cancel its night tour has vowed to fight the cut, claiming that the neighborhood, which includes the World Trade Center site and Battery Park City, has been singled out for first-response reductions.

Speaking at a meeting Dec. 16 of Community Board 1, Fire Department Manhattan Borough Commander Michael Weinlein attempted to calm the fears of incredulous residents, and explained that in addition to eliminating some night tours, the department has reduced administrative positions. Such cuts were necessary, he noted, to meet the Mayor's budget-reduction requests, because personnel operations account for 90 percent of department spending.

FDNY's Justification

Engine Co. 4 is one of four companies for which the department has chosen to cancel night tours. The department argued that low response calls at the house and the proximity of other companies make the cuts feasible. The department will also remove the two full-time Firefighters and one officer from Governor's Island.

Resident Paul Hovitz told the Borough Commander that if the cuts were implemented, Governor's Island would require service from Marine Units and lower Manhattan fire companies, leaving the area with reduced coverage in addition to the canceled tour at Engine Co. 4.

Ladder Co. 15, which shares the firehouse with Engine Co. 4, will still have night tours, as will the companies within a mile radius, which are Ladder Co. 10, Engine Co. 10, Engine Co. 6, Ladder Co. 1 and Engine Co. 7. The area can also be served by three companies across the river in Brooklyn.

Mr. Weinlein was met with groans from the crowd when he explained that Engine Co. 4 was the only canceled night tour in Manhattan, and Mr. Hovitz exclaimed with sarcasm, "We're number one."

Trucks May Slow Responses

The Borough Commander added that a study of firehouses over the last two years showed the Engine Co. 4 was among the least-busy, but CB1 Chair Julie Menin said that the area was one of the fastest-growing in the city and that 2009 will be the peak year for construction, meaning that there will be night truck deliveries in and around the World Trade Center site that will block traffic. The department has argued that night-tour cancellations would not pose public safety risks because fewer fires happen at night and traffic is less congested, allowing nearby companies to respond more quickly.

"This is unacceptable," Ms. Menin told the Commander. "We're going to have to organize to fight these cuts."

Both the Uniformed Firefighters Association and the Uniformed Fire Officers Association oppose the night-tour cancellations.

"It's not a viable plan," said UFOA Recording Secretary Patrick Reynolds. "It's a roll of the dice when the companies are closed at night."

Both unions have held their criticism on other budget cuts in the department, including the cancellation of the next Fire Academy class and the possibility of layoffs. Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta has noted that the department is currently above the firefighter headcount.

Other Companies Affected

The other night-tour cancellations are at Engine Co. 161 in Staten Island, Engine Co. 271 in Brooklyn and Ladder Co. 53 on City Island in The Bronx. City Councilman James Vacca of The Bronx has also opposed the cut at Ladder Co. 53 and UFA President Steve Cassidy led a protest of the Engine Co. 161 cancellation Dec. 13.

UFA Bronx Trustee Eddie Brown noted Dec. 17 that an FDNY rescue that day of a woman who had been drowning at City Island proved the necessity of the company on the island slated to end its night tour.

"If firefighters had to come from a more-distant location onto the island, it is doubtful this woman would have been rescued in time to save her life," he said in a statement. "This is just another reminder that closing Ladder 53 and other community fire companies jeopardize the lives of New Yorkers."

Other CB1 officials said that they believed the area was singled out for security cuts, because in addition to the firehouse cut there would be reduced staffing at the 1st Precinct because of lower violent crime rates in the neighborhood.

"Security is sacrosanct." Ms. Menin said. "This is the one area that should absolutely not be cut."

Soho-based attorney Pete Gleason, a former Firefighter who is running in 2009 for the lower Manhattan City Council seat, faulted CB1 for not pushing for the city to build new firehouses when the economy was better.

"There's enough fat at the top that can be cut," he said in a phone interview. "The Community Board has been shortsighted in not fighting for these firehouses to be opened in an economic boom. You need to be proactive if you're going to run a Community Board, not reactive."