Sharpening The Fire Ax

NY Post - October 25, 2009


Up to 25 fire companies could be shuttered next year as City Hall cost cutters battle to extinguish the $5 billion hole burning through the municipal budget.

The closings are just one idea officials are weighing in the face of their yawning budget gap. Each ladder and engine-company shutdown would save about $1 million a year, sources said.

Another possible budget-slashing measure is lowering staffing on 60 engine companies from five firefighters to four.

City officials proposed slashing $16 million from this year's budget with engine-staffing cuts, but fire-union opposition scuttled the plan.

"It is expected that in the current financial climate, it will all be looked at again," an FDNY insider said.

Safety advocates are sounding alarms over the possibility of slashing fire companies and staffing.

"If this happens, it would be crazy," said Councilman James Vacca, chair of the Fire and Criminal Justice Committee.

"You can't put a price on a person's life. We proved by closing engine and ladder companies you are increasing response times. One minute, three minutes, five minute -- this means life and limb."

In his preliminary budget for the current fiscal year, Mayor Bloomberg proposed closing 16 companies -- including four already closed at night, in Staten Island, The Bronx, lower Manhattan and the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, and 12 unidentified companies.

But Bloomberg's idea did not stick; the City Council eventually restored the funds for those companies.

Sources said the 16 houses Bloomberg proposed closing could move back to the chopping block. Some observers estimated that as many as 25 companies could be slashed.

Bloomberg closed six engine companies in 2003, dropping the total to 196. If 25 additional companies are cut, the number will have dropped 15 percent since Bloomberg took office.

Although the cuts were strongly criticized, response times citywide between 2003 and 2008 fell by 8 minutes to 4 minutes, 12 seconds, according to FDNY statistics.

Vacca (D-Bronx) expressed frustration at the possibility of further cuts.

"The council has spoken on this, and so have the people," said Vacca, whose district includes City Island, where Bloomberg wanted to cut a firehouse.

"I thought it was resolved," Vacca said.

City officials insist on the record that they've got no plans to shut down fire companies. "These claims are false," said FDNY spokesman Frank Gribbon. And Bloomberg spokesman Jason Post said: "Rumors of closures are scare tactics based on politics."