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Front Page April 16, 2009  RSS feed

FIRE UNITS ON THE BRINK

Plan Calls For Closure Of Ridgewood, E. Williamsburg, Woodhaven Companies
by Robert Pozarycki

Three local Fire Department engine companies will be closed permanently in July under a proposed restructuring plan provided to the Times Newsweekly by an anonymous source familiar with the situation.

Engine Co. 271, located at 392 Himrod St. on the Ridgewood/Bushwick border in Brooklyn, along with Engine Co. 206 at 1201 Grand St. in East Williamsburg and Engine Co. 293 at 89-40 87th St. in Woodhaven are among 14 FDNY units that would be eliminated as of July 1 under the plan created due to budget cutbacks.

This follows a plan enacted in January in which Engine Co. 271 and three other units across the city were ordered closed during overnight hours between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. when firefighters scheduled for that shift are needed to fill absences in other companies.

Emergency medical services (EMS) units will also be scaled back under the cost-cutting plan. Three ambulance tours will reportedly be eliminated from five EMS battalions, and conditions cars will also be scaled back from seven other battalions.

Additionally, the Queens, Bronx and Staten Island borough commands will be eliminated and consolidated into the Manhattan and Brooklyn borough commands, which will be redesignated as the Offices of Assistant Chiefs.

One office will cover Manhattan and the Bronx; the other office will cover Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

Cutbacks will also affect the FDNY marshals, who are assigned to investigate fires and conduct fire code enforcement. One supervisor position and four fire marshals will be eliminated from each borough command.

Even if the proposed round of cuts are enacted, more are on the way come January 2010, according to the plan. Six additional FDNY units—including Engine Co. 217 at 940 DeKalb Ave. in Bushwick—are slated to be closed in that round of cutbacks on New Year's Day.

Three additional ambulance tours in five other battalion commands will also be eliminated, and various bureaus within the department—including the Probationary Firefighters School at the Fire Academy—will be suspended and its personnel will be reassigned to field units.

Calls to the Fire Department's Brooklyn offices made by the Times Newsweekly in an attempt to verify the information were unsuccessful as of press time Wednesday.

Though no confirmation of the specific plan could be given, the Uniformed Firefighters Association has been speaking out against the proposed closure of 16 fire companies by next year, which was announced in the preliminary fiscal year 2010 budget.

Tom Butler, a spokesperson for the UFA, told this paper in a phone interview that any further closures of firehouses in Brooklyn, Queens and other parts of the city would endanger the lives of residents who would be affected by prolonged response times to emergency situations.

Generally, engine companies are the first to arrive at the scene of fires since they are equipped to store and process large amounts of water through hoses. The units also respond to other incidents including carbon monoxide leaks, gas leaks and medical emergencies, often before ambulances do.

"When you take fire companies out of service and close them down for good, that puts an awful lot of strain on the network [of remaining firehouses] in place," Butler said. "It's a dangerous proposal."