Judge Supports Engine 261: – QNS.com

Judge Supports Engine 261:

Queens residents won a small battle on May 28, when Justice James Starkey of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn said that the city failed to give proper notice to affected communities before closing Engine 261 in Long Island City. But the fact that he reserved decision on whether to order the city to reopen the firehouse shows that residents have yet to win the war. Judge Starkey has also not yet ruled on the larger lawsuit contesting the citys right to close six firehouses.
On that same evening, Councilmember Eric Gioia led a candlelight vigil at Engine 261. Dozens of neighbors attended to protest the closure.
"This is a victory for the rule of law, and for all those served by Engine 261," said Gioia.
The aforementioned law exists in the City Charter, which states that written notice must be given 45 days in advance of a firehouse closing to the area served by the firehouse. Specifically, this notice must be given to all City Councilmembers and community boards whose districts or borders include areas served by firehouses scheduled to be closed.
Engine 261 serves much of Long Island City, including Dutch Kills, Queensbridge, Ravenswood, as well as parts of Astoria and Woodside. It is also one of the three engines serving Roosevelt Island, which does not have its own firehouse. And notice was given neither to Speaker Gifford Miller, whose City Council District includes Roosevelt Island, nor to Manhattan Community Board 8, which encompasses Roosevelt Island.
"Today, Mayor Bloomberg was told, you have to play by the rules like everyone else," Gioia said. "In its haste, its rush to close firehouses, the city ignored the simple words of the Charter, our citys constitution. We will continue to fight, by protests, marches, vigils, in the media, and in the courtroom, until the mayor reopens all of our firehouses."
Justice Starkey agreed with a brief filed by Gioia and petitioners that argued that proper notice had not been given. A brief hearing took place on the last day that the city could have given notice in accordance with the law. It was found that weeks after being sued for not giving proper notice, the city had not notified those parties required by law.
Justice Starkey strongly advised the city to ensure that proper written notice be given to the relevant parties by sundown of that day. While he had previously recommended that the city not close Engine 261 before he made his ruling, as had been announced, the six firehouses slated for closure were shuttered, including Engine 261.
"We are in the eleventh hour of the fight to save Engine 261," Gioia said. "Everyone but the mayor seems to think closing firehouses is a bad idea. Response times will go up and lives will be put at risk. This is a reckless exercise to shave a few dollars from the city budget at the potentially immeasurable expense of losing lives. We are right on the merits, and right on the legal issues, and I hope that we will be able to reopen Engine 261 soon."
Councilmember Gioia has been fighting the firehouse closings since 2002. At that time, a scheduled rally to keep Engine 261 open was put on hold when City Council won the fight for a blue-ribbon commission that would study how to save money within the Fire Department. In early April, the commission, with a majority of its members appointed by the mayor, rubber-stamped the mayors original proposal. Since then Gioia has led various efforts to keep Engine 261 and the other five firehouses open.
As of press time, Justice Starkey had not yet reached a decision regarding the reopening of the firehouse and had not yet ruled on the fate of the other firehouses.

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