By Phil Corso
Almost one year after city officials doused the flames caused by outrage over the potential closure of FDNY Engine Co. 306 in Bayside, tensions may heat up once again.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office is expected to release a list by early June similar to last year’s index of 20 FDNY companies being considered for closure to balance the budget, including Engine Co. 306 in Bayside, 294 in Richmond Hill and 328 in Far Rockaway, according to a spokesman for the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.
Last year, Bloomberg targeted 20 companies for closure for what he said would save the city as much as $55 million. After a heavy community response through rallies and public outcries, the City Council reached an agreement with the mayor’s office to restore funding to the companies by cutting other budget lines in the department.
One year later, the absence of such a list has left the fire officers group anticipating a similar outcome. A UFOA spokesman said until they are led to believe otherwise, the group will prepare to advocate for the same 20 companies proposed for closure last year.
Uniformed Fire Officers Association President Al Hagan said though he understood the mayor’s predicament of wanting to save money, he may be listening to the wrong people when considering cutting what he called essential services.
“I think there’s plenty of room in the city budget to save these companies,” Hagan said. “All we are asking is to keep the firehouses we already have and I am hopeful that the City Council will restore the money needed to save them.”
Hagan said he was thankful to report that the FDNY has not lost any companies under the guidance of Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan).
An official from the Council also said they expected this year’s list of endangered companies to closely if not exactly resemble the one released in May 2011, including Engine Co. 306 in Bayside, which serves the communities of Bayside and Little Neck.
But to known Bayside activist and Frank Skala, president of the East Bayside Homeowners Association, the entire production is a ploy to force voters into compromising with the city.
“It’s all a hoax,” Skala said. “They don’t intend to close them. You find a place where people will be upset like in Bayside and propose that company for closing to get pressure on the taxpayers.”
State Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) said that though an official list has not been released, it might be likely that Engine Co. 306 will be put back on the chopping block.
“That is absolutely unacceptable to all of us here,” Braunstein said. “Trying to balance the budget by cutting public services is just unacceptable.”
Three of the 20 companies on last year’s list were from Queens. Another list is expected to be released by early June, as the Council must adopt a final budget by June 5.
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.