Fighting to keep firehouses from closing

Firefighters protested Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed firehouse closings at a City Hall rally on June 3. Downtown Express photo by Cynthia Magnus

BY CYNTHIA MAGNUS  |  The firefighters, politicians, and union leaders who marched across the Brooklyn Bridge on Friday, June 3, joined a crowd of roughly 15,000 demonstrators at City Hall to decry Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed closure of 20 fire companies citywide. The plan has been met with blistering criticism from firefighters, local residents, and City Council members who have vowed to force the mayor to change his mind.

“Today’s about democracy in action, it’s a civic lesson,” said Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York, one of the unions that organized the rally. “The bottom line is New York City firefighters can’t save lives from closed firehouses.”

Battalion 35 Chief Mike Burke compared adequate fire protection to a life insurance policy, and said the proposed cuts would be “very unfair to the people of the City, unsafe for them and for the men in their department.”

Many City and State politicians promised to fight alongside the unions and other advocates.

“Closing these firehouses is a national embarrassment, it is a disgrace to the people who have sacrificed so much for the fabric of this city,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

Council Member Margaret Chin said “We have the money in the city, it’s a question of where the money is put. The firehouses are our insurance policy to keep our communities safe.”

Bronx Council Member James Vacca said, “Let this rally be a signal — once we win this year, we don’t ever want this plan to rear its ugly head again.”

Retired firefighter Charles Visco said, “When the mayor comes up with money to change the cross-walking signs to stick figures — to find 15 million dollars for that — that’s mismanagement and that’s a shame; that’s what happens when things don’t make sense… you have a protest. It’s very unlike firemen to protest anything.”

Firefighter Peter Arce said, “It’s going to be dangerous for the people in those areas affected. It’s going to take a lot longer for somebody to get there to fight whatever emergency it might be.”

Queens Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, Chair of the Fire and Criminal Justice Committee, accused the mayor of “rolling the dice with our public safety,” and asked, “Does it make sense to close fire companies when our city is wasting tens of millions of dollars on private contractors that don’t show up for work – when our city is still the number one target for terrorists?”

President of the Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics and Fire Inspectors Union, Patrick Bahnken, expressed concern about medical emergencies.

“We finally are saving more cardiac arrest victims than ever in this city’s history… what a great time to start screwing with the formula,” Bahnken exclaimed. “Hell, no!”

“It’s not a lame excuse to say that the response time would be delayed by a few minutes,” said Visco. “That is so big. You would have major fires every day. They’re not even brought to anyone’s attention because the response time is so quick and we just knock it out and make it look like nothing. There’s nothing to stop the fire but the firemen.”

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