“Save the firehouse, and you save me, in an emergency,” chanted a group of youngsters from PS 273 at a rally to prevent the closure of Engine 294 in Richmond Hill on Tuesday. They were joined by several area lawmakers and firefighter officials who claimed that the move would endanger lives.
The mayor has proposed closing 20 fire companies citywide as part of his executive budget. In the early 1990s, the city temporarily closed Engine 294, and two area residents died in fires, a loss of life that could have been prevented, said City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), if the company had remained open.
“Whether it’s rapidly responding to fires, or medical emergencies, or even terror attacks, our Fire Department is working harder than ever before,” Crowley said, adding, “There are too many lives in this community that depend on 294.”
Crowley said the city has spent millions to overhaul the 911 call system, which still isn’t working properly, when the money could have been used to save firehouses. The 911 improvements included a new $680 million call center that combined the dispatch duties of police, fire and medical personnel. But a report by an independent consulting firm released earlier this month found that there were still delays and errors.
“Does it really make sense to have such a fancy system that is not nearly as efficient as it needs to be when there may be no firefighters in firehouses to respond in times of emergency?” Crowley asked. “It doesn’t make sense at all.”
Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said if the city closes Engine 294, then Ladder 143, located in the same firehouse, would be operating alone and it would take longer to get to fires because putting out a blaze requires at least two engines and one ladder company.
“If you take one engine away from this community, you have to rely on someone coming from farther away, and then you create gaps in the grid throughout the City of New York,” Cassidy said. “If they close 20 fire companies, no one will be safe in the City of New York.”
Cassidy went on to call Engine 294 “vital” to the protection of property, commerce and the lives of both young and old. He called on the taxpayers of the community to stand up for the services they are entitled to.
The 20 companies that had been slated for closure last year, including Engine 294, were saved in the final budget, as they were in previous years. It costs $3 million annually to keep a fire company open, according to Jim Long, a spokesman for the FDNY.
Lawmakers at the rally — Crowley, Assemblymen Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) and Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), along with state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) — said they are prepared to fight the mayor to keep the locations open once again.
Addabbo used an old adage to make his point — don’t play with fire. He called it “wrong” for the community to have to fight every year to keep firehouses open, but he said at least it gives residents a chance to come out and thank the firefighters personally for their hard work.
“It’s a budget game,” Addabbo said. “You would think in the billions of dollars that make up the city budget that they could find some money to save firehouses.”