Queens rallies to save firehouses

Elected officials, residents and firefighters throughout Queens are burning mad at the prospect of losing their firehouses for budgetary reasons – and they’re blaring sirens to warn the mayor of potential tragedies.
Councilmember Dan Halloran held a rally at Engine 306 in Bayside on Wednesday, June 1. At the rally, he shared the story of an elderly woman who the firehouse had saved the previous Friday.
“Our firefighters responded from this company and saved this woman. One minute would have been the difference between life and death,” Halloran told the rally, which police said drew close to 400 people in attendance. “She was saved because 306 is here.”
Halloran also stated his concern for the businesses on Bell Boulevard, as well as the fact that Bayside is highly residential and spread out and getting from one end to the other takes time. According to him, any delay in response would be devastating.
“You’re sitting on the corner of one of the largest cooking corridors in New York City,” he said. “Bars and restaurants line this place and they are all high-pressure gas driven. Any fire that starts here is going to be dangerous from the minute it starts – any seconds of delay will be tremendous.”
“Fire company closings are dangerous when response times increase. People’s lives are put at risk,” said Mike Concklin, a firefighter at Ladder 128 in Sunnyside – one of four Queens firehouses in danger of closing. “When other companies are out, the response times really increase and more people are put in jeopardy.”
At Ladder 128, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer staged a rally on Friday, May 27, to express just how important each firehouse is – and how with each closure, more and more lives are potentially put into danger.
“In an emergency, every second saves lives,” said Van Bramer. “Allowing response times to skyrocket is simply unacceptable. The mayor must reconsider this dangerous proposal. As the population continues to grow in the area, this is not the time to cut services that protect our residents. I will continue to fight to keep Ladder 128 open for the safety of our local residents.”
Prior to both rallies, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio released a report stating that the National Fire Protection Association urges a four-minute or less response time to reduce the risk of civilian death. According to the report, these closures would raise the response time well above that precious threshold to nearly seven minutes.
“I’ve talked to people all over the city, and there is such anger at the idea that they will lose firehouses. It will really make them less safe. That’s the reality,” said de Blasio at the rally. “The response time would go up to a dangerous level, above the national standard. That’s unacceptable.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg revealed a list of 20 firehouses citywide that could close as a result of budget cuts. Besides Ladder 128 in Sunnyside, the mayor’s May 19 list included Engine Company 294 in Richmond Hill, Engine 328 in Rockaway and Engine 306 in Bayside.
According to published reports, $55 million is needed to save the 20 firehouses that the mayor has targeted for closure – a hefty price tag, but Van Bramer said it pales in comparison to the value of human life.
“You can’t put a price on the life of a child who could die because this ladder company or the next ladder company won’t be able to get to a fire in time,” said the council member. “To propose to close firehouses is just dangerous for our city. It can’t stand.”
The prevailing thought at both rallies and throughout Queens is that neighborhood firehouses are the wrong place to save money and, as Halloran said, “Public safety should not be an option.”
Others had a more personal take, such as Eileen Walsh, a Sunnyside resident for 35 years. She said that the mayor seems to be out of touch with the city.
“These men are dedicated to saving lives,” she said. “It saddens me because my son, Michael Brennen, was a firefighter killed in 9/11. I know how dedicated they are to saving lives. It’s not just a job. Their heart is in this.”
Rallies will continue throughout the month, with the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association and the Richmond Hill Block Association planning a June 5 rally to save Engine 294. – With additional reporting by Michael A. Pantelidis and Marc Cira

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