Opponents Say Bloomberg Hopes To Close Fire Houses

CBS 2 - October 26, 2009

NEW YORK (CBS) - New York City firefighters could need some saving from the city budget, with reports that the Bloomberg administration is considering closing up to 25 fire houses to save millions of dollars.

The issue has become a hot topic on the campaign trail.

"If a fire house closes down, people are gonna suffer, the community is gonna suffer, buildings are gonna burn," Washington Heights resident Claire Maguire said.

"We need fire houses," Burnside resident Alba de la Cruz said. "That's like closing down hospitals – it's not good."

Mayor Bloomberg's opponents say he is considering saving up to $25 million by closing dozens of engine companies.

"After the election, the mayor could close 25 houses? It's saving a miniscule amount of money, but endangering so many neighborhoods across the city of New York," Bloomberg's Democratic opponent, Bill Thompson, said.

Mayor Bloomberg, however, is calling the charge pure politics.

"I don't know where the story came from – we have no plans to close fire houses," Bloomberg said. "We worked it out with the city council, to provide funding for them. I suspect somebody was planting a story."

A public firestorm forced the city to drop a plan to close fire companies earlier this year.

Ladder Company 53 was one of the ones on the chopping block before, until the city council reached a deal with City Hall to save it. If other companies are now at risk, similar public outrage is virtually guaranteed.

"We need the fire houses, for our kids, our families," Burnside resident Raymond Perez said.

The head of the firefighters' union says he's taking the unconfirmed reports very seriously.

"There's rumors circulating the department on the number of closings, but nobody should be surprised at that number," Stephen Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said. "The mayor was on record just a few months ago trying to close 16 fire companies. That is a fact."

Both candidates went on the record when asked if they promised not to make any cuts.

"For a firehouse being closed, it saves a million dollars? That's ridiculous," Thompson said at a mayoral debate. "You can promise you would not close fire houses? I promise I would not close fire houses."

"We have no plans to do so," Bloomberg said. "What we really want to do is keep rebuilding our fire houses."

The issue may well heat up before Election Day.

The fire department maintains nearly 200 engine companies. The last time any were closed was in 2003, during Mayor Bloomberg's first term.

CBS 2's Josh Landis contributed to this report.