For Immediate Release: January 2, 2007
2006 Second Consecutive Record Year for New York's Bravest. Union Leader Says Growing Levels of Emergency Calls Requires Reopening Firehouses & Full Staffing for Engine Companies
With the book closed on the year 2006, New York City Firefighters have now concluded the two busiest years consecutively in the 142-plus year history of the Fire Department of the City of New York.
The increased level of emergency responses is attributable to structural and non-structural fires, medical emergencies, airplane crashes, traffic accidents and auto extrications, building collapses, hazardous materials incidents, gas leaks and noxious fume scares, among all other emergencies. The old record set in 1978 and which stood for nearly three decades was 472,405 firefighter emergency responses.
In December of 2005, responding to 485,702 total responses, the FDNY broke through that historic ceiling which most thought would never be broken in the history of American firefighting.
Once again, 2006 levels of emergency calls for New York's Bravest have stayed consistent with 2005's record breaking levels. In mid-December of this year firefighters again surpassed the 1978 mark, and when the final numbers are calculated may break last year's record. These statistics do not include separate responses by the FDNY's EMS service.
The leader of New York City's Firefighters union, the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) stressed that either way, the increase mandates reopening closed firehouses and fully staffing all engine companies with 5-firefighters.
Steve Cassidy, UFA President said, "First 2005 and now 2006 will go down in the record books as the busiest consecutive years on record for New York City Firefighters. When you look at the statistics, a dangerous trend has become apparent. There is a noticeable increase in civilian emergency needs at the same time Nick Scoppetta declared it was safe to close down six fire companies and now, sell off firehouses."
Cassidy citied reasons mandating the re-opening of firehouses, including tourism at an all-time high of 44 million visitors, a dramatic population expansion, plus increased traffic congestion which slows firefighter emergency response time. Adding to that the existing building boom and the Mayor's projections of the city growing by another 1-million new residents, it is obvious that more resources are required to meet this surge in demand.
In many communities there has not been an expansion of firefighter protection in decades. In Queens for example, there were 13,137 total responses in the year 1955. 50 years later in 2005, with the borough population 500,000 greater and operating with one less Engine Company, firefighters had 97,234 total responses, a work load increase of 740%.
"In December Mayor Bloomberg predicted New York City's population will grow the equivalent of adding Boston and Miami to the current population. The Mayor also said tourism will reach 50-million visitors a year," said Mr. Cassidy. "His vision for growth is an important step, but now we must take action to meet the existing surge in need for emergency protection for New Yorkers."
Ironically, the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services is in the process of selling off vital community firehouse locations to the highest bidder. Mr. Cassidy says the continuing high level of emergency calls merits not selling off these firehouses and the reopening of companies including Engine 212 in Williamsburg, Engine 204 in Cobble Hill and Engine 36 in Harlem, all communities undergoing a phenomenal rebirth and massive expansion.
"When major American cities face such dramatic increases in emergency calls it is incumbent on our leaders to take action and properly protect citizens. In New York City how can Nick Scoppetta be selling off vital emergency infrastructure, and telling firefighters to make due with less when there is a surge in demand? Where are the studies about the expanding emergency service needs of a community like Flatbush, Brooklyn which will be home to the Atlantic Yards development, for instance?"
Cassidy pointed out that in addition to the closure of the six companies in 2003 by Commissioner Nick Scoppetta (E-204 Cobble Hill; E-209-Bedford Stuyvesant; E-278 Sunset Park; E-212 Williamsburg; E-261 Long Island City; E-36 Harlem), the FDNY also maintains a practice of closing an additional 20-30 fire companies citywide each day, without community notification, for training and other duties. He said, "Each day the FDNY randomly closes 9 percent of its fire companies placing a massive burden on those that remain open and leaves dangerous gaps in the grid. In light of expanding need for our services and the FDNY's own studies (Chief Dunn Report) which show a 5-man engine company gets water on a fire twice as quickly as a 4-man company, the Fire Department must stop the ill-conceived cuts and mandate all engine companies be fully staffed with 5-firefighters."
Mr. Cassidy notes that after Nick Scoppetta lowered both the educational and physical requirements for future firefighters the department is planning to expand the Fire Academy from 13 to 23 weeks, costing an additional tens-of-millions of dollars annually to train these new recruits - money that would be better spent reopening firehouses and fully staffing engine companies throughout the city.
The estimated cost to reopen the six closed firehouses is about $9 million annually.
While the final statistics for 2006 are still being tallied, the total of 485,702 runs in 2005 breaks down to 51,395 structural and non-structural fires; 199,643 non-fire emergencies, including gas leaks, water leaks, and carbon monoxide alarms which save lives by notifying residents of potentially fatal gasses present in the air; 202,526 were for first responder medical emergencies.
"Each and every emergency call, be it for a fire or non-fire emergencies can be life threatening, regardless if it is a gas or water leak, building collapse, structural fire or cardiac arrest. In our job every second counts and the name of the game is to have more than enough resources to protect the citizens," said Mr. Cassidy.
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