Thursday, May 13, 2010

Queens Nabes Burning with Anger Over Mayor’s Fire Cuts by Holly Tsang - Queens Ledger

Read original...

The release of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed budget last week had many Queens residents smoking mad when they learned that the mayor’s proposal to cut 20 firehouses would likely become reality.

“If the firehouse isn’t here, who’s going to save people?” asked Sunnyside resident Paul Maringelli as he stood in front of Hook and Ladder 116 in Long Island City on May 7 to rally against the proposed closings. “What, we’re going to send people from Manhattan or Astoria? Those couple of minutes could mean a lot.”

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer scolded the mayor for even considering downsizing the city’s first line of defense against fires.

“The city has already closed our Engine Company [261],” said Van Bramer, “Hook and Ladder 116 must remain open in order to continue protecting all of our residents.”

The FDNY actually has not identified which fire companies would close if the budget passes, but it seems that every one is fair game. The City Charter requires the FDNY to give a community 45 days’notice prior to a company’s closure.

Leroy McGuinness, Queens Trustee of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, estimated that at least three or four closings will be in Queens. He pointed out that in the month of April alone, Queens had seven multiple-alarm fires (a second alarm fire, he said, has 20 fire companies responding).

Councilman Dan Halloran, who sits on the Fire and Criminal Justice committee, in a phone interview this week also brought up the issue of the city cutting crews from five firefighters to four firefighters at the busiest engine companies.

"The argument is that other cities only use four crew members," said Halloran. "But we're not like other cities, we are a city of 8.5 million people. We don't operate like other cities."

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, chair of the Fire & Criminal Justice Committee, said that the mayor recently found $100 million in the budget for security services.

“The fire department is our security services,” said Crowley, “so it doesn’t make any sense why he wants to take our security services away.” She added, “we cannot stop until every fire company that’s in jeopardy of closing stays open.”

Crowley noted that last year, for the first time in city history, the City Council was forced to use discretionary funds to keep 16 firehouses from closing. Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. added that even if the council proposed to use discretionary funds, there is no guarantee the mayor will use them.

Maringelli noticed that there have been a lot of fires in Queens lately. He’s not surprised, however, because there are so many people packed together in the borough.

“In Queens, you’ve got businesses, factories, private homes, apartment buildings, office buildings,” said Maringelli. “You name it, Queens has it. There’s always a risk.”

Days later, to emphasize their point, elected officials took to the streets of Richmond Hill, marching along Jamaica Avenue in a rally against the cuts. More rallies are sure to follow as budget negotiations continue.