Scoppetta On Council Firehouse Hot Seat – QNS.com

Scoppetta On Council Firehouse Hot Seat

City Council members grilled Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta during a lengthy hearing on the proposed closings of eight firehouses including two in Queens at City Hall on Monday, May 5.
The Councils Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services focused on what it saw as the shortcomings of the seven-person Blue Ribbon Commission, a body jointly created by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Speaker Gifford Miller last November to examine the criteria for firehouse closings and possible alternatives.
Last month, the commission approved the Fire Departments $10.8 million cost-saving plan by a vote of 5-2, with the Council appointees as the two dissenters.
"The public expected a dialogue. What they got was a rubber stamp," said Councilwoman Yvette Clarke, chair of the committee.
In a tense question-and-answer session often punctured by heckling and bursts of applause from a large gathering of community activists in the rear of the chamber councilmembers fired sharp criticisms at Scoppetta, a member of the commission, arguing that the Bloomberg administration is endangering lives.
Fire Department officials selected the eight firehouses after considering a range of variables, such as the increase in response times to fires, compiled by using historical data and a RAND Corporation computer model.
Scoppetta admitted that initial response times in the areas covered by the two Queens firehouses, Engine 261 in Long Island City and Engine 293 in Woodhaven, would leap above the citywide average, 4:44 minutes, as other firehouses are called on to cover more territory.
In 261s "alarm box" zone, response time would rise from 4:08 to 5:10. In 293s area, it would go from 4:14 to 5:25.
Councilwoman Clarke harped Scoppetta about the dependability of this data. Would there be no safety risk to the public, she asked, or would there be a "minimal" risk?
"To the best of our ability to predict," answered Scoppetta, "[the closings] will not affect public safety."
But, he added, "we cant predict the future."
"Exactly, thats the point were trying to make," Clarke responded, prompting shouts and loud applause.
During his opening statement, the commissioner deftly countered several of the Councils own proposed alternatives to firehouse closings, arguing that many of the proposals had already been enacted in one form or another.
He discounted the possibility of reducing the Fire Departments civilian work force, since the department has the lowest ratio of civilian to uniform staff of any of the citys uniformed agencies, and it has plans to lay off 144 employees later this month.
Scoppetta could not, however, deter the committee from focusing on corporate sponsorships for firehouses, a proposal that has received ample attention in recent weeks.
He argued that such sponsorships would tie the hands of the department brass. If they need to close other firehouses in the future, because of new budget cuts, they would have to select houses in areas where the closings would have more of an impact on public safety.
But this argument did not sit well with the committee.
"I guess youre making the assumption that we cant get more corporate sponsorships," said one councilmember. Scoppetta said he first would have to see a bill authorizing the use of sponsorships before forming a firm position.
Councilwoman Clarke took issue with Scoppettas characterization of the Fire Department as just one of many city agencies needing to trim its budget in tight fiscal times. The massive losses the department suffered on 9/11, she claimed, sets it apart.
"It doesnt stand to reason that we would extract resources from an agency that should be rebuilding at this time."
The fire commissioner promised to testify before the committee again in six months to evaluate the closings, which will go ahead at the end of May.

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